July 16, 2021

Podcast: A Conversation with Former Chief Deputy Attorney General Patricia Conners

Eyes on Washington Podcast Series - Conversations with State Attorneys General

In this episode of our Public Policy & Regulation Group's "Conversations with State Attorneys General" podcast series, attorney Stephen Cobb talks with former Florida Chief Deputy Attorney General Patricia Conners about her career in the AG’s office, where she served for over 35 years. During her tenure, Ms. Conners worked with seven different AGs from both sides of the aisle and served as both Deputy Attorney General and Chief Deputy Attorney General. This discussion touches on the role of state AGs from a broader perspective and highlights how their position has changed at the local and national level. They also spend time exploring the issue of antitrust and discuss how state AGs have become a major player in antitrust jurisprudence and enforcement. In the same vain, Ms. Conners also provides insight on what industries she believes will likely be a focus for state AGs when it comes to cracking down on anti-competitive conduct.


Podcast Transcript

Stephen Cobb: Hi, welcome back to another installment of Holland & Knight's Eyes on Washington podcast, your state attorneys general, edition. My name is Stephen Cobb, I'm a former deputy attorney general for the Commonwealth of Virginia and now a partner in Holland & Knight's Public Policy & Regulatory team based out of D.C.. I'm super excited to have with me today another former deputy attorney general and chief deputy attorney general from the great state of Florida, Trish Conners. Trish, welcome to the podcast. How are you today?

Trish Conners: I'm doing great, Stephen. Thanks for having me.

 

Stephen Cobb and Patricia Conners

 

Path to the Florida AG's Office

Stephen Cobb: You know, I've started each one of these podcasts with some of our colleagues in the same way for our listeners, and that is, kind of focusing on how the role of state attorneys general has grown over the last years and decades. And for many who thought of AGs as merely the top cop or prosecutor or dealing with the Fly-By-Night contractor, their role has really grown and expanded over the last few decades to the tune of tens of billions of dollars in fines and settlements to working in a 50-state, multi-state investigations and litigation, to having four former state attorneys general in the current presidential cabinet. So there is no time in history where I think state attorneys generals have been higher profile. And so it's an exciting time to work in that space, kind of with that background and that overarching theme can you tell our listeners just a little bit about you and your background working in the state attorney general's office in Florida.

Trish Conners: Sure. I spent my entire career basically in the state attorney general's office. I didn't intend to, but I spent about 35 years there. Shortly after clerking for a judge right out of law school, I had an opportunity to start in the criminal appeals division and was there for a few years before I moved to antitrust. And antitrust is what I did for the remainder of my career, even as I got promoted through the office. So I spent 35 years, seven attorneys general from both sides of the aisle and just a wide array of experiences that when people ask me, I just retired recently and when people ask me whether I regret anything about my state and public service and not going out and making the big bucks at firms or whatever, I say absolutely not, because it really gave me such a rich wealth of experiences and opportunities that I'm not sure I would have had in private practice. And it's certainly up my game because you're up against some of the biggest and brightest attorneys on the other side of the table or as part of your team, in a very complex matter that, you know, you really have to be eating your Wheaties every morning to get going with to deal with such esteemed groups of people. And you learn so much. So I don't regret anything about my 35 years. It was a fabulous experience and it gave me so many different avenues to be creative and innovative in approaches to litigation and resolution of cases.

How the Role of the State AG Has Changed

Stephen Cobb: So that provides a nice segue. In our last installment, we had Tom Miller, the attorney general of Iowa, who was first elected as attorney general in 1978. So we talked a little bit about how he has seen the arc of state attorneys general change over time with their priorities and their leadership roles. What are some of the things that you've seen change during your tenure as far as issues that have been on the forefront or how that work has been conducted? Or have you seen change or is it just that there's more focus now, but it's been business as usual.

Trish Conners: I think it's a little bit of both. I think there is a tremendous focus now on state AGs because they have had more of a willingness to take on riskier issues. When I first started in the antitrust space, and of course I ended up as a deputy and chief deputy overseeing all of the enforcement and eventually the entire agency, before I left government service. So I saw the wealth of things not just in the enforcement space, which is change, but also more broadly on policy. And so there was a bias when I first started a tremendous bias against state AGs in the enforcement space it was all, 'well, if the federal agencies are doing it then the states are just following,' there was never this assumption or belief that the states could actually originate their own cases, let alone then combine their resources and multistate cases or individually pursue cases as in litigation, because they either didn't have the resources people thought or they didn't have the experience. So there was a lot of bias against state AGs and that clearly has changed because in recent years in the enforcement space and I'll get more broadly in a minute, but in the enforcement space, states have exhibited especially in the last four to five years, an extreme willingness to take on risky issues or issues that are cutting edge and basically advance jurisprudence in areas where the federal agencies have chosen not to pursue cases, whether it's been a merger, a complicated merger matter or some innovative issue or cutting edge issue in big tech or in pharma, for example. So they're starting to put their money where their mouth is and really go out there and do what they need to do to ensure that consumers are protected and that they eventually do the right thing. That's key to what antitrust and consumer protection is about, but it is what attorneys general are about too. They're always going to try to do the right thing they recognize and take seriously the representation of consumers and of state agencies that may have lost money in a price fixing scheme or anything of that nature.

In the enforcement space, states have exhibited an extreme willingness to take on risky issues [to] advance jurisprudence in areas where the federal agencies have chosen not to pursue cases... They're starting to put their money where their mouth is and really go out there and do what they need to do to ensure that consumers are protected and that they eventually do the right thing.

More broadly, in the policy space, AGs have gotten somewhat more political with a small 'p,' they tend to now be getting into issues that they didn't get into before when I first started state AGs, generally did not weigh in on national policy issues. Now it's very common for state AGs to, on a very bipartisan and partisan level, weigh in on certain issues. On the partisan side, it might be immigration or gun control or civil rights, environmental issues like clean air, clean water, fracking, that sort of thing. And then on the more bipartisan space, it could be things like privacy, issues about pharmacy, financial services, investor protection. It could be, you know, HIPAA issues, healthcare issues, health fraud issues, government waste issues. So you'll see comment letters and sign-on letters and amicus briefs that are signed by almost all the states on issues like that. Whereas, on the more partisan issues, you might only see about half the AGs, usually all of the same party writing a letter about a particular issue on gun control or something that's super important to the views of those attorneys general, that they'll also want to come together and make a statement on, that's relatively new.

Factors Leading to the Growth of Multistates

Stephen Cobb: Before we dive in to talk about antitrust, which I know is your your bread and butter and your background, I want to ask you one other question. So for context, I have also had the opportunity to teach a law school class on the role of state attorneys general. So this is a question that after several weeks of reading, I ask my students. And so I want to get your thoughts on this as well. Which is that I think after the tobacco settlement, you see an increased rise in multistates, which is state AGs banding together for purposes of investigation and litigation. And so the question that I pose to my students often is, what is the primary factor that you see as having led to the rise in multistate actions? And I think there' many good answers and reasons. It can be the increased specialty of the offices, it can be an increased willingness, as you mentioned, to step up and lead, I think you can make an argument that it is some of the coalition building groups, whether that's NAG, CWAG, RAGA, DAGA that help coordinate and pull people together at least more often. And in one text, they even just said it's technology. You know, when you had to fax each other copies of hundred page briefs and letters, it was less conducive to working together. But, you know, when you went into the Internet age, when you could then, you know, email each other briefs and copies and comment, it made the logistics of coordination that much easier. So it was a natural outcome of the improved communications. Acknowledging that the answer is it's probably many factors, is there any one that you think weighs particularly heavy on leading to the growth of multistate enforcement efforts?

Trish Conners: I think two things, again, going back, there is a backdrop of changing perceptions. That bias I spoke about is shifting more to an awareness that state AGs are actually going to put their money where their mouth is. So now there's more of an awareness because in some, depending on the kind of law, the states have always been there. They've just never been thought of as being sort of a force. But I also think that there's more of a focus now on cutting edge stuff and there's much more of a willingness to take risk. So there was multistate and there was multistate. Before, there was multistate where they all got together regardless of what the law was, but you could pretty much bet your bottom dollar that it was going to be resolved before litigation and that there was going to be some sort of settlement. And, you know, some would say, depending on the case, that it might have been a cheap settlement because the defense bar knew that there was probably little risk of litigation. There weren't necessarily going to be litigators. There were going to be AGs hiring law firms that had deeper benches to be able to take on large contingents of lawyers representing large corporations. So there was less of a concern that cases would sort of, from a defense perspective, get out of hand and become too expensive or whatever. Now, that's not the case. State AGs are much more willing to retain outside counsel, even collectively. A few states are willing, as they did in T-Mobile Sprint merger challenge to pay the firms that represent them on behalf of basically all the states that want to participate in that litigation. So that's new.

And then I think there's also a willingness to appreciate and understand that there's roles that from the AGs that they now take very, very seriously. And depending on, and they always did, but now they're really recognizing the different hats they can wear in multistate matters. And they've broadened the kinds of theories that they bring cases on. The best example is, which is a huge jump from just taking on statutory, whether they're federal law or state law cases, is in opioids. The opioids litigation. Which is still pending. There's a big federal case, but that's in Cleveland. But that's all the cities and counties. That's a private action where a bunch of private lawyers are, there's no state AG in that. All of the opioid cases are filed in individual state courts and the defendants are all different, the theories are all different and the remedies are all different. But one thing that they generally have in common across the board is they use as a primary claim, common law. They claim a public nuisance and they claim negligence against the opioids companies. And so that's new. You don't see multistate actions based just merely on common law claims with a few other things added in like consumer protection and maybe RICO and stuff like that. But the primary claims are common law claims. And I think that shows you how far the AGs have come from the safe space that they were in maybe 20 years ago or 10 years ago to now, you know, really pushing the envelope and taking on claims that they normally would not take on to address a problem that was out there that no one else knew how to address and that the federal agencies were not moving on in terms of a regulatory approach in any meaningful manner and that Congress wasn't acting on. So you see that. And then the last thing is really just filling gaps. I mean, there's areas where AGs are sort of just seeping into collectively seeping into the space that federal agencies, are not able to do anything about because there's no national law and there's no national overarching standard that can be applied. And the issue that cries out there is privacy and data breach. There's absolutely no way that the federal agencies can do what the states can do, even though they have 56 different, and I'm counting the territories and D.C., 56 different state laws on privacy and data breach. The gold standard, of course, now is California, with a couple of other states that have passed similar very broad and overarching privacy laws. But it is the state AGs that are driving that privacy space until there is a national law passed. The kind of weird thing out of COVID was price gouging. There's no national price gouging law. And so we might see that again in some other national thing where because there's no national price gouging law, the price gouging state laws are the ones that drove the trend with everybody buying toilet paper and all this stuff.

That shows you how far the AGs have come from the safe space that they were in maybe 20 years ago or 10 years ago to now, really pushing the envelope and taking on claims that they normally would not take on to address a problem that was out there that no one else knew how to address and that the federal agencies were not moving on in terms of a regulatory approach in any meaningful manner and that Congress wasn't acting on.

Stephen Cobb: That really is a hodgepodge of laws because some only come in if there is a declared a state of emergency or not. And some are just always on the books and some have both. And so, you know, even for companies figuring out, who do business in 20 states, what the law is on how it affects their pricing is always a challenge.

Trish Conners: Those last two are super important for companies to really stay aware of, because usually it's just a weather event with price gouging, but as we saw with COVID, it became a national issue that the price gouging laws individually were not intended to address, but there you had it, right. Somebody had to do it.

AGs at the Forefront of Antitrust Work

Stephen Cobb: Now, we've talked about a bunch of issues on the forefront of state AGs. But I do want to focus on one particular area, which I know you have a strong background in. Setting the table for you, I was at a dinner with some lawyers the other night and someone said, Stephen, tell me the three things you think state attorneys generals are going to be most focused on over the next year to 18 months, and one of the three that I mentioned was the antitrust space. And very good lawyers at the table, and more than one was, you know, they almost had whiplash and how quickly their head turned around and they said state AGs and antitrust? I think that there is often a knowledge gap between what the public or what industry views as being a leader in the antitrust space and what has actually been brought to bear, particularly with state AGs in that space over the last decade, and I know you have a wealth of experience in the state AG office doing antitrust work, so you know before we get into some specific examples of what's going on now, maybe you can walk our listeners through a little bit about what the space looked like when you started it and how that changed.

Trish Conners: So antitrust is a unique area for AGs because, and I was trying to think of any other equivalent and I can't think of one, there is a foundation, a very firm foundation in federal law, and that is that they've always had a seat at the table to represent natural persons, to recover treble damages for antitrust violations, it's in the Clayton Act, the federal law. Section 4C gives them the ability to represent natural persons, parents, patria in antitrust cases. And I think for a long time the defense bar and businesses didn't really focus on that because the federal agencies were sort of in the forefront, at least through the trade press and taking the lead supposedly on a lot of big cases. But Congress intended sort of a three legged stool and one leg was the Department of Justice. Yes, they bring civil antitrust cases like Microsoft and others to test the waters on cutting edge issues. But their primary focus is in criminal prosecution of antitrust cases, not civil enforcement, so they don't represent consumers. The Federal Trade Commission uses Section 5 of the FTC Act as their foundation to pursue antitrust cases. And they don't use the Sherman Act necessarily, but the Federal Trade Commission Act and they look more broadly at civil issues, but their role has always been basically to stop anti-competitive conduct and to have equitable remedies. And they have administrative proceedings as well as federal district court proceedings. So the states were left to recover damages for consumers. And that's a very discrete area and a remedy that is exclusive to state enforcement in the federal space. So, they are part of propping up the stool of antitrust jurisprudence and enforcement in this country, and they are becoming more and more aware of that. We always had that federal foundation and we were able to work with other states in a multistate capacity going back to the mid '80s on antitrust cases.

They [AGs] are part of propping up the stool of antitrust jurisprudence and enforcement in this country, and they are becoming more and more aware of that.

When I first started, though, the multistate cases were limited to certain areas like resale price maintenance and looking at per se violations of the antitrust laws that would garner quick settlements because you could establish pretty quickly a per se violation and then sit down and negotiate and those were the cases that were being handled. I worked on those, but also in Florida, we were extremely proactive. We were a fairly small office of about five attorneys and five support staff. We had an economist on staff, which we still have in our office, which is increasingly something that state AGs do. And when I first started, I came in on one of the best cases ever. I thought they were all like this, which was the school milk bid rigging cases. Florida was the state to start those cases. One of my colleagues had worked on a dairy farm or his family owned one in Indiana, and he says, 'you know, they used to rig bids for school milk contracts in Indiana, I wonder if they're doing it in Florida.' So we started collecting the bidding information from all 67 counties in Florida and were able to establish, you know, issues where route density wasn't being employed in any rational way that you drive by a school that you didn't even bid on to service another school and somebody else had that bid and nobody was making money off this unless they were rigging the bids. And school contracts were unique in that they were let during the summer, months prior to the next school year, so they were all done at the same time. So these guys could sit down, literally sit down and work out who was going to get what contracts in what part of the state. So we ended up developing that case into 20 witnesses who were ready to testify, which resulted in a $34 million settlement, which was treble damages at the time, and that was the largest state antitrust recovery at the time as well. So that segued into infant formula, disposable contact lenses, chemical water treatment products. Florida originated a lot of those cases. Several other states were doing the same thing. California was starting to sue a group of insurers and reinsurers. Several other states were starting to test the waters on some important antitrust issues, but it hadn't come to the multistate world yet. And that was my background. I worked with some of the best plaintiffs lawyers and some who would join our multidistrict litigation. I learned from some of the best on discovery issues and strategy and litigation strategy. And that was that was how I cut my teeth originally. And then in the in the early 2000s, I became chair of the Multistate Antitrust Task Force from 2001 to 2005, which is a role that helps coordinate multistate matters. And beginning in the late '90s, when we did the contact lens litigation and when the state case at Microsoft was evolving, that's when the space really got active for state AGs that well beyond just one-off cases or bid rigging or per se price fixing violations. Then they started getting a lot more creative in the space and willing to push the envelope. Microsoft was quite a pushing of the envelope. There were a number of other pay for delay cases and pharmaceutical space and other things that were being brought during that time that really was pushing the envelope on issues that were novel.

Looking Ahead: A Focus on Anti-Competitive Conduct

Stephen Cobb: Let's unpack that a little bit. When you say pushing the envelope, what are some of the areas both in the past few years, but also looking ahead that AGs are going to focus on when it comes to anti-competitive conduct?

Trish Conners: So going forward, I think the big tech stuff is huge and they're going to be looking at stifling of innovation, the inability for startup companies to overcome huge barriers to entry to get into the tech space. You know, even though there have been recent setbacks for the state AGs, they're not going to give up on the issue of acquisitions. They may start looking, as will the federal agencies at tech acquisitions and particularly differently as to what really the motivation is of a big company or a telecom company, for that matter, to acquire a nascent competitor. Are they just really trying to stifle somebody's genius idea in the next stage of innovation in tech? In the pharma space, that's not done yet. There's a lot going on in pharma that continues to evolve where pharmaceutical companies are going to try to protect their patents for as long as they possibly can to ensure the top profit. We have the generic drugs antitrust case pending now in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where a group of generic drug makers, just their salespeople and middle management in particular. So there's a number of areas like that. I think privacy, outside of the antitrust space, I think privacy is going to be huge. I think data breach is going to be huge. I don't think that's done yet. Health fraud and health issues, hospital consolidation, the vertical integration in healthcare is going a mile a minute and it's going to cost consumers an enormous amount of money. And remember, that's what AGs are looking at. Is there a consumer impact? Is there an impact on state agency costs? Are there things in local markets that are going to change the competitive landscape, to the point that consumers will be indirectly affected? These are all things that will continue to be on the forefront for AGs in the enforcement space.

I think the big tech stuff is huge and they're [AGs] going to be looking at stifling of innovation, the inability for startup companies to overcome huge barriers to entry to get into the tech space.

Stephen Cobb: In that antitrust space, what are some of the criteria or factors that, you know, the offices, either individually or part of that larger committee look at to decide whether they think that this is an issue ripe for multistate action?

Trish Conners: So every state makes its own individual decisions about that sort of thing. But generally speaking, the common areas are first and foremost, who's been harmed in the state. Are the consumers paying too much for something? Are state agencies, you know, as a result of price fixing, did they pay too much directly or indirectly for a particular product, pharma is an example.

Stephen Cobb: When we're looking at this in the antitrust context, some of that is hypothetical. You used barriers to entry into a particular market regardless of what market sector that is. Does that usually come from a mom and pop shop complaining about barriers to entry or is that done in the kind of in the abstract, in the ether. You understand that distinction that I'm making between price gouging, at least in my experience, you have a complaint line, people are calling in.

Trish Conners: Yeah. How do you get the complaints is what your how do you know.

Stephen Cobb: I mean, it seems to be more of a market focused analysis than it is a John Q plaintiff.

Trish Conners: So it really depends on the kind of case, if some of monopolization or merger transaction that you're concerned might be anticompetitive, then you might look at the markets more than you would in a pure price fixing case where it's clear that you're trying to prove a conspiracy. So in the conspiracy kind of arena, you have to do some deep diving. There's usually going to be something that is happening that's against the best interest of the corporation that seems somewhat obvious, but you really need subpoena power to delve deeper. And it might be that you have a whistleblower or somebody coming to you and telling you about something, or you might just see from an econometric perspective that prices are high and you don't know why. It doesn't make sense that they're high to the extent that they're supply and demand issues and other things. That's where your economists become very important in an antitrust situation, because you need to rule out all the rational explanations for what might be going on. And then you may find, as you delve deeper in your in your discovery, your investigation, that the barriers to entry are not as high or as high as you thought, that there were easier ways for different things to occur. So the other thing is, are there alternatives to what is occurring? So in the monopolization space, somebody comes to you usually, it's usually competitors saying, you know, 'Joe Blow Inc is doing this and it's anti-competitive and I can't compete equally in that space.' Well, they may be looking at a much smaller market than what you can legitimately prove in court. They may be looking at the market for widgets when it's really widgets and about 12 other things that can be substituted for widgets. And if there are things that can be substituted and other potential competitors out there, other competitors out there, then your product market is going to be a lot bigger. So, you know, a lot of times we'll get folks coming in and complaining about a competitor trying to get an upper hand in the market, but when you do the analysis, it just doesn't wash that we can legitimately bring a case. And then there are times when there's no replacement for what is being proposed. And so that's what you're kind of seeing in the big tech area now. If the barriers to entry are so high that nobody can provide a substitute for what's being offered by the dominant player, then you're likely to have a stifling of innovation. So that's what happened with Microsoft. That's what's potentially happening with big tech now. These are things that, it's going to be really hard for mom and pop to come in and even try to compete with Behemoth the size of a Microsoft.

That's what you're kind of seeing in the big tech area now. If the barriers to entry are so high that nobody can provide a substitute for what's being offered by the dominant player, then you're likely to have a stifling of innovation.

Best Practices: Working with a State AG Office

Stephen Cobb: I want to shift ever so slightly. This is along the lines of a question that I've discussed with General Donovan and General Miller, and I want to get your thoughts. Prefacing that with working with state AGs and the state regulators in general, it's often a bit of a black box. There's no rules of procedure necessarily when dealing with state AGs and particularly with companies that thankfully don't have regular interactions with state AGs in a regulatory enforcement context. What are some of the things you see as either best practices or common errors that you think are good for industry to recognize when dealing with a state attorneys general office.

Trish Conners: For legitimate companies that are really not interested in being in the crosshairs of state AGs, it always helps to have transparency in your approach and to never forget that you need to keep AGs in mind on certain issues, especially if you have products and services that are in local markets where state AGs are going to be paying attention. So it's important to have perhaps even existing relationships. There's lots of organizations like the AG Alliance and NAG, National Association of Attorneys General and, you know, even the more political ones which are RAGA and DAGA, you know, it doesn't hurt to have at least a government relations person or someone who does like you, Stephen, on a state AG practice, get engaged in developing or ensuring that you continue in your case, because, you know, a lot of the folks from your prior life that you continue to have those relationships and to have them in place already when something might happen so that it's easier. Let's say, Steven, you represent ABC company and they're legit company and they hardly ever have problems, but if you already have an existing relationship with the state AG folks, both at the staff level and their front offices, they're going to call you as a courtesy nine times out of ten to say, 'hey, we've got this issue, we want to send the subpoena, but maybe we can sit down and talk about it first or, hey, we've got this issue, we're sending the subpoena, are you willing to take service for it?' And you start that process of having a very reasonable, rational conversation about what the issue is and whether it can be resolved without litigation. That's super, super, super important in the price gouging space, in particular with a little mom and pops, a lot of them, or when we did a vaping investigation in Florida, a lot of them just ignored our subpoenas. They just said 'eh, not going to worry about it. We're just going to ignore the subpoena.' And you know, they delayed discovery, they ramped up our cost because we had to go to court.

It always helps to have transparency in your approach and to never forget that you need to keep AGs in mind on certain issues, especially if you have products and services that are in local markets where state AGs are going to be paying attention.

So the second thing is, if you do get a subpoena, always call, because you may look at and go, oh, my God, this is just enormous and it's asking too much it's too much of a burden. Well, you know, again, state AGs are asking for the kitchen sink a lot of times. But if you go, that's because they may not know how you're structured, they may not know how you're set up. So they end up asking everything. So you just need to work with them through your lawyers to narrow it down to what makes sense. And the last thing is confidentiality is always going to be an issue because, you know, you'll have a concern about how are my documents going to be shared. Speaking from a state that has one of the most open records statutes in the country, we're probably the lowest common denominator and if you can meet our standards, you can meet everybody's standards. But confidentiality is really important to companies and understandably so in this day and age. And so how the documents are going to be shared and all of that usually ends up being put forth in a confidentiality agreement so it doesn't hurt to stop and talk about that. It should not be used as a delay tactic because states are not interested in spending months negotiating that instead of getting to the nitty gritty of a case. So transparency, forthrightness, being willing to have that conversation and find out if there's ways to resolve the issues. I might add, one other thing because you mentioned complaints, consumer complaints. You know, that's always a huge issue when you deal, especially in the consumer protection space, and people come in and they'll say, 'well, what complaints did you get about us what are they?' And you share the complaints, and they look at them and say, 'well, these aren't that bad.' And we say, 'well, they break down into like four or five categories and there's hundreds of them. So we need to address each one of these things.' It's not enough to say you're taking care of those things or you're doing the individual one-offs and trying to clear the decks to show that you've done your part. That's great. And that shows very proactive attention. But you need to tell us what business model changes you're going to make to make sure that we stop getting those complaints. That's absolutely key for a business.

Stephen Cobb: One of the things I've found to be slightly unique with working with state attorneys general as opposed to some of our federal counterparts, is that with the overwhelming majority of them being elected officials and many of them coming from having been a state representative or state senator before, there is a bit of that, which is the old Tip O'Neill: politics is local. And so if you're dealing with 20 state inquiry, I always stress that you need to know exactly what your impact is within that state. They're going to want to know where you do business, the number of consumers you have, the number of employees you have, because a lot of these folks know their community, at that micro level. I mean, for some of our state AGs who were former state representatives or state senators, they know their former districts. They'll want to know how much business the company that you're representing does there. And sometimes that comes in at a micro level that you don't get with your with your federal counterparts.

Trish Conners: And you raise an interesting point, because in the antitrust space, the one difference between the federal and state enforcement role is that the AG wears many, many hats. In Florida, and this is all fascinating to me because the AG is a cabinet officer overseeing all sorts of things involving financial services, insurance regulation, works on state land purchases. She also has various roles overseeing the pension fund and other things. So, it goes well beyond enforcement and represents the legislature on a number of things, defends the constitutionality of state statutes, even though we know they probably are unconstitutional, sometimes. That is the role that they have to take on. And so there's a wealth of interests. This is super important. There's a wealth of interests that state AGs have. So when you're coming in with the one issue like a consumer protection or antitrust or Medicaid fraud issue, the other issues may come into play in terms of what the attorney general may be thinking about or what the front office staff anyway may be thinking about. A prime example is in a merger transaction, if there are local markets or if there is a dominant presence in the state by a big bank or a big mortgage servicer or something along those lines where lots of consumers are going to be affected, that's important to address from an antitrust or consumer protection perspective. But you know what the flip side is, if you merge, you're going to be closing stores, people are going to be losing their jobs, local economies are going to be deeply impacted. And the state AG is going to be just incredibly aware of that impact on the economy to the point that unlike the federal enforcement agencies, which are purely antitrust and consumer protection oriented in terms of their remedies, you may see an AG wanting to put in there, you know, are you going to keep these bank tellers employed? Are these retail stores going to stay open in particular areas? In the telecom space, we had in T-Mobile Sprint, we made sure that 5G was going to be available sooner rather than later in rural areas of the state where there was very little competition for cell phone service and in our big long state there's a lot of rural gaps in cell phone service. And so we wanted to make sure there was availability and some competition on price for people living in rural areas. That had nothing to do with the antitrust stuff, but it was really important to the quality of service they were going to be providing in the state to our consumers.

There's a wealth of interests that state AGs have. So when you're coming in with the one issue like a consumer protection or antitrust or Medicaid fraud issue, the other issues may come into play in terms of what the attorney general may be thinking about or what the front office staff anyway may be thinking about.

Stephen Cobb: Trish, we're running out of time, so I wanted to thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us and be a guest on our podcast. And also thank you so much for your decades of service as a state employee to the citizens of the state of Florida. It's been a pleasure to have you on. To our listeners, thanks again. This is Stephen Cobb and this has been Holland & Knight's Eyes on Washington podcast, our state attorneys general edition.

Trish Conners: Thank you, Steven.

To hear more about what state attorneys general are prioritizing across the country, listen to the other episodes in this series.

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