On Thursday, June 29, 2023, Gizmodo reported that Revolving Door Project, a watchdog group, has called for the recusal of U.S. District Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley, citing a potential conflict of interest due to her son’s employment at Microsoft, in relation to the ongoing legal battle surrounding Microsoft’s bid to acquire Activision Blizzard.
During a pre-hearing conference, Judge Corley revealed that her son is employed by Microsoft, albeit outside of the gaming division. The Revolving Door Project argues that despite this distinction, the proximity between the judge and the company still poses a clear conflict of interest. They claim that his situation may violate the Code of Conduct for US Judges, which advises judges to avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities.
In a letter obtained by The Washington Post, The Revolving Door Project expressed concerns that Judge Corley’s objectivity might be compromised due to her desire to support her son’s employer. They argue that this potential bias could undermine public trust in the courts and raise doubts about the fairness of the decision-making process.
“It is common sense that a parent would want to support the financial success of their child’s employer in order to support their child’s financial stability and professional prestige,” The Revolving Dorr Project wrote.
The Activision Blizzard-Microsoft merger case has attracted attention beyond the United States. The United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority rejected the deal, expressing concerns that it would reduce options for gamers. In contrast, the European Commission approved the merger following an investigation. These varying perspectives highlight the complexity of evaluating the potential impact of the merger on competition and consumer choice.
The Revolving Door Project contends that the judge’s son’s employment at Microsoft introduces a risk of retaliation against him if Microsoft faces an unfavorable outcome. They suggest that Microsoft could potentially fire Corley’s son or create corporate obstacles that hinder his career progression. The watchdog group points to recent layoffs at Microsoft as evidence that the company could use such measures as a means of retribution. The mere possibility of these actions could create a “crisis of incentives” and further complicate the case.
As the case progresses, it will be crucial to closely monitor the judge’s decision and its potential repercussions on the outcome of the merger and public trust in the judiciary system.
Judge Corley and The Northwest District of California did not respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.
Corley currently oversees the arguments regarding the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) request to temporarily halt the merger until a trial is set for August. If Corley decides against granting the FTC’s request, the deal could be closed ahead of the looming July 18 deadline.