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Google Taps Wilson Sonsini to Fight Trump Free Speech Case (1)

Sept. 1, 2021, 4:19 PMUpdated: Sept. 1, 2021, 5:43 PM

Alphabet Inc. CEO Sundar Pichai and YouTube have hired D.C. litigator Steffen Johnson and a team of lawyers from Wilson Sonsini to represent them in former President Donald Trump’s First Amendment lawsuit.

The class action lawsuit is one of three led by Trump’s lawyer John P. Coale, a personal injury litigator known for taking on the tobacco and gun industries, against major tech companies YouTube, Twitter Inc., and Facebook Inc. Trump is challenging decisions to ban him from the social media platforms.

Johnson, a Supreme Court litigation veteran, joined Wilson Sonsini in 2019 after nearly 15 years with Winston & Strawn. In 2016, he helped represent New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in his “Deflategate” suspension appeal against the National Football League.

Wilson Sonsini partner Brian Willen also filed paperwork Tuesday to appear in the case. Stearns Weaver Miller shareholders Abigail Corbett and Jay B. Shapiro are serving as local counsel for Pichai and YouTube, a unit of Alphabet’s Google.

The suits, which allege that the social media platforms violated Trump’s and others’ First Amendment rights, have been called “frivolous” by multiple legal scholars because the companies are private entities, not governed by the Constitution. Coale, however, has said he’s confident in Trump’s legal arguments.

Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment on behalf of YouTube and Pichai. Johnson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Stearns Weaver Miller and Willen referred queries to Google.

Unlike Coale, Johnson, based in Washington, has practiced constitutional law throughout his career. At Winston Strawn, he was most recently vice chair of the firm’s appellate and critical motions practice.

Before his time with Winston & Strawn, Johnson worked for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, where he advised the White House and other executive branch officials on constitutional law, according to his firm profile.

Willen, also a DOJ alum, has represented Google in a wide range of litigation. He defended the company in litigation seeking to hold YouTube and other social media platforms liable for terrorist attacks, according to his online bio. In 2018, Willen defended Google in a lawsuit by Prager University, a conservative digital media company, successfully arguing that entities like YouTube are not state actors subject to the First Amendment.

Corbett joined Stearns Weaver Miller in 2009 and has also worked for Covington & Burling and the Human Rights Campaign. Shapiro was Stearns Weaver Miller’s managing director from 1998 to 2004 and is now a member of the firm’s board of directors.

Twitter and Facebook have not named their lawyers as of Wednesday morning.

The case is Trump et al v. YouTube, LLC, S.D. Fla. No. 21-cv-22445.

(Added information about Willen's career history in ninth paragraph. )

To contact the reporter on this story: Ruiqi Chen in Washington, D.C. at rchen@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com;
John Hughes in Washington at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com