News Column

Consumer-protection-oriented FTC Chief on Way

Mar 1, 2013

By Jayne O'Donnell

Edith Ramirez

President Obama plans to appoint Edith Ramirez to chair the Federal Trade Commission, the agency announced Thursday.

Ramirez, a friend and former law school classmate of the president, worked on his presidential campaigns. She has been an FTC commissioner since 2010.

The FTC has authority over antitrust and consumer-protection matters, such as deceptive advertising claims and anti-pyramid-scheme enforcement. Ramirez will replace Chairman Jon Leibowitz, who has been outspoken on the issues of privacy, such as tracking of consumer behavior by websites, and what's known as "pay for delay," the practice of brand-name pharmaceutical companies paying generic competitors to postpone their entry into the market.

"I am deeply honored at the opportunity to lead the Federal Trade Commission. I look forward to working with my fellow commissioners and the able FTC staff to continue the agency's proud history of promoting vigorous competition and protecting consumers," Ramirez said. "I also want to thank Chairman Leibowitz for his strong leadership. I welcome the opportunity to build on his legacy of active enforcement of our antitrust and consumer protection laws."

The past few years, Ramirez has focused on intellectual property law in the technology arena and has worked on cases to help protect vulnerable consumer communities, such as the poor and those who don't speak English.

Jodie Bernstein, who headed the FTC's consumer-protection bureau during the Clinton administration, says Ramirez will continue to be a strong advocate for Hispanics. At the FTC, Ramirez has led outreach to the Hispanic community and made combating fraud that targets Hispanics a priority. "She's taken positions that enhance consumer rights and has been an outstanding commissioner," Bernstein says.

The FTC's consumer-protection bureau was considered very aggressive under its recent chief, David Vladeck, who prioritized financial fraud and advertising cases, such as the high-profile action against Skechers on its muscle-toning claims.

Ramirez will head a four-member commission that has two Republicans, including conservative Joshua Wright, and two Democrats, including activist Julie Brill.

Until President Obama names a fifth member, the sharp ideological divides will force Ramirez "to use all of her intellect, tact and preparedness in problematic cases," says Steve Newborn, who heads the antitrust practice at Weil Gotshal & Manges.

Recently, the FTC has been criticized for its January antitrust deal with Google that some thought too lenient. Issues likely to face the FTC under Ramirez include the interplay of patents and antitrust. One example is how companies could buy patents to make it harder for rivals to enter even fast-changing markets, such as high-tech, says Newborn, a former FTC mergers chief.

Prior to joining the commission, Ramirez was a partner in the Los Angeles office of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, where she handled varied business litigation, specializing in intellectual property, antitrust and unfair competition.

She also has extensive appellate litigation experience. From 1993 to 1996, she was an associate at the law firm of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher in Los Angeles and clerked for Judge Alfred T. Goodwin in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

She was editor of the Harvard Law Review in 1990 and 1991, when Obama was its president.

Source: Copyright USA TODAY 2013

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