A judge said Uber can’t present a key argument in the Alphabet lawsuit to a jury

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A judge has ruled that Uber can’t present a key argument in its defense against an Alphabet lawsuit.

It’s a potential blow to the ride-hail company’s defense. Alphabet’s suit claims former Uber executive Anthony Levandowski downloaded 14,000 files from Alphabet’s autonomous vehicle division in order to give them to Uber. But the ride-hailing giant planned to present a different theory: Levandowski took the files in order to secure his bonus payment from Alphabet.

In other words, his intention was to hold the files as a way to ensure his bonus, which ascribes a different motivation. That theory would also conceivably help Uber’s defense that it never used any of the material Levandowski had allegedly taken.

The judge ruled Uber can’t present the theory since Levandowski revealed his intention to former CEO Travis Kalanick in a conversation with the company’s assistant general counsel Angela Padilla, meaning the conversation was privileged.

“We had hoped that the jury and the public could hear the reasons Levandowski gave for his downloading files, which had nothing to do with Uber” an Uber spokesperson said. “The fact remains, and will be demonstrated at trial, that none of those files came to Uber.”

Uber had argued that Padilla wasn’t giving legal advice and therefore the conversation does not fall within privileged communications. The judge presiding over the case, William Alsup, doesn’t buy it.

The new order reads:

Uber has indulged in the slick practice of including its lawyers in meetings and communications and deciding after the fact if a lawyer was actually included for the purpose of providing legal advice, all in accordance with what happens to be convenient for Uber’s case. Where, as here, the contents of a meeting prove advantageous for Uber to reveal, it readily claims that the lawyer did not attend the meeting in their capacity as a lawyer. But where the contents of a meeting would hurt Uber’s litigation position, Uber is quick to conceal the facts under claims of privilege.

Alphabet, for its part, had always disputed the “bonus theory,” saying it had paid Levandowski before he downloaded the files.

“Anthony Levandowski’s supposed excuse for downloading more than 14,000 confidential Waymo files was self-serving and more than just suspicious — it was entirely made-up,” a Waymo spokesperson said in a statement. “The extreme measures he took to try to erase the digital fingerprints of his actions completely belie any benign motive.”