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Antitrust Chief Anne Bingaman to Resign

Law enforcement: She cites 'purely personal reasons' in letter saying she will leave by Nov. 15.

August 02, 1996|From Times Wire Services

WASHINGTON — Anne K. Bingaman, the most aggressive chief antitrust enforcer in more than 15 years, announced plans Thursday to leave the government in the fall to return to the private sector.

In a brief letter to Atty. Gen. Janet Reno, Bingaman said she will step down as assistant attorney general in charge of the antitrust division no later than Nov. 15 "for purely personal reasons." She thanked Reno for the chance to serve and for her support for the division.

Bingaman "made real strides in promoting competition for the benefit of American consumers and maintaining a level playing field for American businesses," Reno said in a statement. "We will all miss Anne very much."

Reno said Bingaman will return to the private sector. Bingaman, 53, the wife of Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), did not disclose her plans.

Before entering government, she was a lawyer representing private plaintiffs challenging anti-competitive corporate practices.

"She's been very aggressive. She's very much made her mark as an antitrust enforcer," said Malcolm Pfunder, a lawyer at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

Antitrust lawyers said the departure is unlikely to have much effect in the near future on the Clinton administration's activist stance on enforcing antitrust laws. Beyond that, much will depend on the November elections.

"I don't think it means anything in the short run," said Joe Sims, an attorney at Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue.

A successor was not named. Bingaman's deputy, Joel Klein, is expected to be named acting head of the division.

Not one to shy from controversy, Bingaman plunged into a case against Microsoft Corp. after the Federal Trade Commission had deadlocked over whether to pursue a monopoly case against the giant software company. The Justice Department settled its case against Microsoft when the company agreed in 1994 to change the terms under which personal computer makers can install their software.

In another high-profile case, the Justice Department recently announced an unprecedented settlement with 24 major Wall Street firms charged with price fixing on the Nasdaq Stock Market.

Last year, the division filed 60 criminal price-fixing cases and obtained $41.5 million in criminal fines from corporations and individuals. The criminal corporate fines set records overall. Dyno Nobel, a subsidiary of a Norwegian chemical company, paid $15 million for fixing prices on commercial explosives in what was the biggest fine ever imposed in a criminal antitrust case.

By her second year in office, Bingaman had opened 70 civil investigations--a total greater than that for all of the 1980s.

She also took on a spate of corporate mergers, challenging more than 60 transactions during her tenure. Four of those cases went to court. The majority of those she questioned were restructured because of government pressure, usually through partial divestitures, to eliminate concerns about competition.

Bingaman also wrote new guidelines for joint health-care ventures and for international antitrust enforcement and recruited state attorneys general for the first time to join in federal-state antitrust actions.

In addition, she filed:

* the first challenges in 11 years of mergers involving companies that control entire product streams in their businesses. These included the deals between AT&T and McCaw, MCI and British Telecom, and Tele-Communications Inc. and Liberty Media. These mergers involved new combinations of cellular telephone, cable television or long-distance telephone companies, and each was revised to protect competition.

* the first anti-monopoly cases in a decade--against Microsoft, British glass maker Pilkington and Electronic Payment Systems, the nation's largest regional automated teller machine network. She won three settlements.

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