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Watchdog Demands Recusal of Judge Overseeing Activision Case Because Her Son Works for Microsoft

The Revolving Door Project says the judge's son's employment poses a clear conflict of interest.

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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella arrives at federal court on June 28, 2023, in San Francisco, California.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella arrives at federal court on June 28, 2023, in San Francisco, California.
Photo: Loren Elliott (Getty Images)

An industry watchdog group says the judge tasked with ultimately determining the fate of Microsoft’s $68.7 billion bid to acquire Activision Blizzard should recuse herself because her son works at Microsoft. U.S. District Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley revealed the family connection during a pre-hearing conference last week. Though Corley said her son works outside of the gaming division, the watchdog group says that proximity to the company still poses a clear conflict of interest.

In a letter on Thursday, first obtained by The Washington Post, The Revolving Door Project said Corley’s son’s employment at Microsoft may violate multiple rules laid out in the Code of Conduct for US Judges including one advising judges to “avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities.” The group warns this alleged conflict of interest risks influencing a judge’s objectivity and could even degrade public trust in courts.


“The public could rightfully become concerned about a judge being improperly biased if the judge’s child is employed by a corporation whose case the judge is overseeing,” The Revolving Door Project wrote. “It is common sense that a parent would want to support the financial success of their child’s employer in order to support their child’s financial stability and professional prestige.”

Judge Corley and The Northwest District of California did not respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.


Corley is currently overseeing arguments this week to determine whether or not to grant the FTC’s request to temporarily stall the merger until a trial is set for August. If Corley decides not to temporarily halt the deal, it could be closed ahead of a July 18 deadline.

The Revolving Door Project claims Corley’s son’s employment at the company could pose “a clear risk of retaliation.” Microsoft could respond to a ruling against them, the group alleges, by firing Corley’s son or putting up corporate roadblocks making it more difficult for him to advance his career. The group cited Microsoft’s recent wave of layoffs which it said could be used as a convenient cover to justify a retaliatory firing. Just the mere possibility of that Succession-like scenario, they alleged, could create a “crisis of incentives.”

Microsoft and Activision Blizzard did not Gizmodo’s request for comment. The FTC declined to comment.

The Revolving Door Project claims the judge’s son’s employment calls for recusal even if he’s not directly involved in the gaming division due to the high-stakes nature of the deal. The letter cited Microsoft’s lead lawyer who last week said a ruling against the company in the merger case could result in a “three-year administrative nightmare.” That shakeup, they say, could reignite concerns about layoffs impacting many different divisions of the company. Similarly, Microsoft could find itself forced to pay $3 billion in breakup fees to Activision if the merger does not go through.


The letter comes during a crucial moment in one of the most expensive tech acquisitions to date. The United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority recently rejected the deal and claimed it would leave gamers with fewer options to choose from. The European Commission went the other route and approved the buyout following an investigation. The FTC, led by its outspokenly interventionist chair Lina Khan, warns the merger would let Microsoft suppress competitors to its own Xbox gaming console and its growing cloud gaming business.