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Blog Post | May 21, 2021

Revolver Spotlight: Brian Netter

BigLawDepartment of JusticeEthics in Government
Revolver Spotlight: Brian Netter

In May, former corporate lawyer Brian Netter was appointed to head the Federal Programs Branch of the Department of Justice. He will be tasked with defending the US Government in court against any suits “attacking the legality of government policies and decisions.” Netter is slated to join other white collar corporate defenders running the DOJ like 2nd in command, Lisa Monaco, and Assistant Attorney General, Brian Boynton.

 Netter worked for 9 years defending corporate clients at Mayer Brown, including oil giant Royal Dutch Shell, weapons manufacturer Northrop Grumman, and telecom monopolist AT&T. Well-versed in the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act which regulates retirement plans, Netter has used his expertise to litigate against workers and retirees who sued companies for illegally mismanaging their retirements, effectively robbing them of their savings. 

And that’s not all he did in private practice:

Netter personally defended employers in wage theft cases:

  • Netter also defended a small cafe whose delivery drivers accused it of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. They sought “damages for unpaid minimum wages, overtime wages, and spread of hours pay, and, in addition, sought liquidated and punitive damages.” Netter defended the restaurant by arguing that the drivers were not eligible for labor protections because they were not legally classified as employees, the same defense that UberEats, Doordash, and PostMates make to skirt labor protections for food delivery workers.

Netter defended Shell Oil, Duke Energy, and other major employers in lawsuits brought by thousands of workers alleging financial mismanagement of their retirement savings, and praised a 2020 Supreme Court ruling that gutted financial protections for savers.

  • Netter defended companies who, wittingly or not, illegally drained their employees’ retirement savings. He routinely defended big corporations like Shell Oil and universities with tens of thousands of employees when they were accused of negligent handling of their workers’ retirement savings. Netter defended Shell when it allowed its retirement plan to charge unconscionably high fees to savers and let its plan manager sell workers’ personal information.
  • Netter filed an amicus curiae brief before the Supreme Court on behalf of the US Chamber of Commerce and multiple employer industry groups calling for the court to gut the ability for retirees to hold their retirement plan administrators accountable for misconduct. He later praised the Supreme Court’s ruling to weaken retirement finance regulation.

Netter represented Arkema, a chemical company who successfully sued the EPA to overturn parts of its cap and trade rules.

  • In Arkema v. EPA, Netter sued the EPA for enforcing regulations that would curb the emissions of hydrochlorofluorocarbons, a major atmospheric pollutant. Arkema is an international chemical giant that employs tens of thousands of people around the world. Netter’s legal work on their behalf resulted in the courts  “vacating portions of EPA’s cap-and-trade program for reducing ozone-depleting substances.”

Netter’s employer, Mayer Brown, is a major corporate lobbying firm whose clients included the  Chamber of Commerce, Uber, Chevron, US Oil, and Visa in 2020 alone.

  • Mayer Brown made at least $2,950,000 lobbying for 38 clients in 2020. Just a selection of them include bad actors like:
    • Abbott Laboratories (pharmaceutical manufacturer)
    • AT&T (Telecom monopolist)
    • Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (telecom industry group)
    • Chevron Corp (transnational oil company)
    • Association for Accessible Medicines (generic drug manufacturer association)
    • US Chamber of Commerce
    • Visa
    • US Oil
    • Uber 

Netter’s record as a defender of corporate interests does not bode well for his ability to represent the US government in court.

Photo Credit: “Mayer Brown’s Display Table” by djevents is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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