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By Liz Crampton
In the past year and a half, antitrust litigator John Majoras has faced off with the government in three trials, spending a total of 32 days in court.
Majoras, the top antitrust trial lawyer at Jones Day, has emerged as the go-to attorney when the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission sue to block large corporate mergers a handful of times each year.
He could soon find himself switching sides, as his name has been floated as leader of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. Majoras declined to comment when asked by Bloomberg BNA if he’s communicated with the president’s advisers.
Majoras could join at least a dozen other Jones Day lawyers hired by the Trump administration, including as White House counsel and principal deputy solicitor general.
Large companies, in deal after deal, continue to turn to Majoras to shepherd their multimillion mergers through the courts.
“The art in antitrust litigation is taking complex facts and making them understandable to juries and to generalist judges and he has a very good knack for that,” Rich Parker, partner at O’Melveny, told Bloomberg BNA. Parker and Majoras worked together in representing U.S. Airways and American Airlines in their merger.
“He’s a very prominent antitrust trial lawyer,” Parker said. “Among the best, no question.”
Given how rarely antitrust cases go to trial, Majoras is among the small pool of antitrust lawyers with trial experience.
Sometimes he wins. He successfully pushed through U.S. infection-prevention company Steris Corp.’s acquisition of U.K.-based Synergy Health PLC in the fall of 2015.
A few months later, he represented General Electric Co. in the sale of its appliances business to rival Electrolux AB. A judge didn’t get a chance to rule on the deal because the companies dissolved their agreement near the end of trial.
He’s lost, too. Last month, Majoras and his co-counsel couldn’t convince a federal judge that the combination of national insurers Aetna Inc. and Humana Inc. would create a more balanced business that could cut costs and offer better products for senior citizens buying insurance.
His next challenge will be representing Deere & Co. in its proposed bid for Monsanto Co.’s precision planting operations when the case goes to trial in June in Chicago.
“There are merger lawyers and there are antitrust litigators,” said Jonathan Orszag, an economist Majoras relied on to explain why the Aetna-Humana and GE-Electrolux deals were pro-competitive. “What John has carved out is sitting at the nexus of those and being able to distill cases down to their core,” Orszag told Bloomberg BNA.
Lawyers who have worked with Majoras say he has a particular knack for going off-script and distilling complicated antitrust issues into something generalist judges can easily understand.
Geoff Irwin, a partner at Jones Day who worked with Majoras on the Steris-Synergy Health and Aetna-Humana cases, recalled a time when Majoras had only a few hours before a status conference was to begin to prepare a presentation. Majoras quickly wrote out some talking points on a legal pad.
“He had given this real command performance, he had a couple exchanges with the judge that had him laughing,” Irwin told Bloomberg BNA. “At the end, the government lawyer who presented a very typical PowerPoint, walked over and joked, ‘I don’t think there’s very much doubt the judge likes you more than me.’ ”
After the hearing, Irwin glanced at Majoras’ notepad and realized he’d delivered a spontaneous presentation and hadn’t relied on his notes at all.
In every trial, Majoras, 55, adopts the same strategy when explaining the merger. He presents company executives as honest, diligent employees just trying to make the best business decisions, and the government as standing in the way of that goal.
At the GE-Electrolux merger trial that began in November 2015, Majoras peppered Electrolux CEO Keith McLoughlin with questions about his upbringing and how he arrived at the company before launching into a direct examination about the merger.
“Mr. McLoughlin, before we jump into some more of the substance, I’d first like to give you a little more of an opportunity to introduce yourself to the Court,” Majoras told McLoughlin as he settled onto the witness stand in the Washington, D.C. courtroom. “So can you tell us where you were born and raised?’,” Majoras asked.
“‘These are real people too’ is a pretty good strategy when talking about a merger that could become technical and you could lose sight of companies just being people who work hard,” said Ethan Glass, a former DOJ attorney who led the government’s challenge to the GE-Electrolux deal.
“They’re not some sort of fictional entity that would be able to be painted as evil,” he told Bloomberg BNA. “It’s really, I think, an approach that works well for him, really making it about how this should not be seen as evil companies trying to squeeze consumers. Instead, these are good people at good companies who are doing their best to produce products that people like.”
“He’s straight. No nonsense,” said Michael Hausfeld, chairman of firm Hausfeld LLP. He added that Majoras is always open to resolving a dispute. “Many lawyers just get caught up in the technicalities of opposing positions. John sees through that and understands that there needs to be exit strategies for both sides.”
Majoras grew up in Chattanooga, Tenn., the son of an elementary school teacher and an IT systems manager. He attended Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, for both college and law school. He immediately went to work at Jones Day in 1986 and never left.
Cases land on his desk in a variety of ways. Companies may hire Jones Day at the outset of a deal to handle negotiations or filings with antitrust regulators. As soon as a potential lawsuit becomes apparent, lawyers will be brought in from from the firm’s business and tort litigation practice, which Majoras leads.
Or a company facing a federal antitrust lawsuit may drop the firm they initially hired and bring the case to Jones Day. This occurred in the Deere-Precision Planting case when the companies first hired Morrison Foerster LLC but switched to Jones Day to lead its defense.
Jones Day is also where Majoras met his wife, Deborah Platt Majoras, who was appointed chairman of the FTC in 2004. She’s now general counsel for The Procter & Gamble Co., which is headquartered in Cincinnati. Majoras spends his time commuting between Jones Day offices in Columbus and Washington, and traveling for work.
Majoras said antitrust issues will come up in conversation with his wife at home but “then we say ‘stop, let’s keep this at the office’.”
The Majorases are big donors to the Legal Aid Society of Cincinnati, contributing between $25,000 to $50,000 in 2015.
They’ve also given several thousand dollars to Republican candidates, including the presidential bids of Mitt Romney and John Kasich.
As for the future, Majoras said he plans to continue doing what he has been, whether that’s more merger work or handling civil cases.
“The pace of the merger cases in particular is just so quick and energizing so it’s not really until the case is over that you stop and take a breath,” Majoras told Bloomberg BNA. “It’s not until the next one comes along that you get the adrenaline pumping again.”
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