Representatives for the National Association of Realtors have engaged in talks with U.S. Justice Department officials in an effort to resolve a 2-year-old antitrust lawsuit, and both parties are open to continuing the dialogue, according to a spokesman for the Realtor trade group.
“There have been negotiations up to this point,” said Lucien Salvant, a NAR spokesman, in late December. He said that “talks will continue,” as both parties are open to the discussions. DOJ officials offered no comment about the talks.
Laurie Janik, general counsel for the Realtor group, announced during the group’s annual conference in Las Vegas in November that the group would consider settlement talks with the federal agency, which filed a lawsuit in September 2005 charging that the Realtor group approved illegally restrictive policies related to the online sharing and display of property information.
“If we’re unsuccessful in reaching any type of a satisfactory resolution, the case looks like it will go to trial in about June or July of next year,” Janik told an audience of multiple listing service officials at that meeting.
Also in November, a new judge was appointed to preside over the lawsuit brought against the Realtor group, as U.S. District Court Judge Mark R. Filip of Chicago is a nominee for the Justice Department’s number two post of deputy attorney general.
The new judge for the antitrust case is U.S. District Court Judge Matthew F. Kennelly. U.S. Magistrate Judge Morton Denlow is also handling aspects of the case. A status hearing before Kennelly is scheduled for Jan. 16, and a hearing with the magistrate judge has been set for Feb. 12.
According to a court document filed last month by the Realtor group, the Justice Department has identified 36 geographic market areas from which it intends to draw evidence to demonstrate the alleged anticompetitive effects of NAR-approved policies.
The Realtor group sought through a subpoena to obtain local market information from data provider comScore Inc. relevant to the lawsuit, though the group’s motion to compel compliance with this subpoena has been withdrawn, according to a Dec. 20 court filing.
“In this lawsuit, the Department of Justice challenges certain policies adopted by NAR that regulate the display of residential real estate listing information by brokers on certain types of Web sites known as ‘virtual office Web sites’ or VOWs,” according to a Dec. 14 court filing on behalf of NAR.
“Because there are numerous kinds of Web sites other than VOWs that display residential real estate listings, one of the important issues in analyzing the competitive consequences of the challenged NAR policies is the extent to which consumers searching for information about homes for sale perceive VOWs to offer features and benefits that are not provided by other types of Web sites showing real estate listing information.” ComScore offers statistical reports that detail the popularity of Web sites.
In another court document, filed Dec. 13, lawyers for the Justice Department noted that Home Services Inc. turned over a large number of documents to the government in response to a Jan. 12, 2007, subpoena, and “it is possible that a deposition will be required after the documents are reviewed.”
The document also noted that Brendan King, a real estate technologist who resigned from the Canadian tech company Point2 in December along with a group of other company officials, may agree to appear as a witness for the Realtor group if the case goes to trial. If King will appear in court, the Justice Department noted in the filing that it planned to seek a deposition from King and may also request documents prior to the deposition.
“Because Mr. King recently announced his resignation, his employer told the parties today that it is unsure whether it will provide a witness and that it will revisit the issue in January,” the court document states.
King told Inman News on Wednesday that NAR attorneys have been in touch with him personally, and both sides have indicated that they want his deposition as a subject matter expert.
And Roger Noujeim, a spokesman for Point2, said Wednesday that the company plans to appoint someone to serve as a witness in the lawsuit within the next day or two.
The court document also referred to a survey prepared for NAR by Aon Consulting that the Justice Department stated “may be relevant to the litigation,” though it does not name the survey. Last year, the Realtor group and Aon Consulting produced a profile of state Realtor associations and a separate profile of local Realtor associations based on survey results that included information about compensation and benefits.
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