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Judge Says Uber Can’t Present Key Argument in Waymo Lawsuit to Jury

The ruling could be a blow to Uber in its ongoing legal fight with Waymo.

Uber won’t be allowed to present a key argument in its legal battle against Waymo to a jury, the judge presiding over the case has ruled. 

Waymo is suing Uber, claiming the ride-sharing company used information in 14,000 files stolen by former employee Anthony Levandowski to further its own autonomous-car efforts. Uber wanted to present the argument that Levandowski stole the files to secure his bonus payment from Waymo, the former Google self-driving car project, according to Recode. That theory implies Levandowski held the files to ensure he was paid, casting the alleged theft as a dispute between Levandowski and Waymo and leaving Uber out of it.

But U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup ruled that Uber can’t present that theory to a jury. That’s because the theory is based largely on a conversation between Levandowski with both former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and Uber assistant general counsel Angela Padilla. Her presence means the conversation was privileged, the judge said.

“We has 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. Uber argued that Padilla was not acting in her capacity as a lawyer during the meeting, and therefore the conversation is not privileged. But Judge Alsup did not see it that way.

“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,” the judge said. “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.”

In a statement, Waymo said it paid Levandowski before he downloaded the files, describing the theory that he took them in order to secure a bonus payment as “entirely made up.”

Uber has long argued that the alleged theft of self-driving car files has nothing to do with it. Earlier in the case, it argued that the matter should be settled solely in arbitration between Waymo and Levandowski. Judge Alsup didn’t buy that argument…and it doesn’t look like he’s buying this one either.