Anthony Levandowski, an Uber executive whom CEO Travis Kalanick once called his "brother from another mother," is asserting his Fifth Amendment rights in a lawsuit filed by his former employer, Google. Levandowski's lawyers say he's invoking the right to avoid self-incrimination because there's "potential for criminal action" in the case, according to court transcripts obtained by the New York Times, news that adds another dimension to a mounting legal battle that could rage into a full-on war.
Levandowski's former employer, Google, brought suit against Uber in late February, alleging that Levandowski and others stole self-driving secrets from them. It was this autonomous technology, created at Google/Alphabet-owned driverless car company Waymo, which Levandowski used to launch his self-driving truck company, Otto, or so Google's lawyers assert. Otto was quickly acquired for $680 million by Uber — along with its autonomous technology innovations, which gave the ride-hailing company a much needed speed-boost in the race to develop and deploy self-driving cars.
As part of a motion Google filed seeking a temporary injunction against Uber's autonomous vehicle development, Google demanded that Uber hand over 14,000 files he allegedly downloaded on his way out of Google and brought with him to Uber. Levandowski has said he downloaded the files to work from home with them.
The transcript of a private hearing before a US District Court judge in San Francisco obtained by the Times reveals that Levandowski's lawyers said he wouldn't turn over the files, an aspect of his Fifth Amendment rights, they said. An Uber lawyer representing Levandowski said the exec's rights protect against “compelled disclosure that would identify the existence, location or possession of any responsive documents.”
That wasn't doing it for the judge, William Alsup: "If you think for a moment that I'm going to stay my hand, because your guy is taking the Fifth Amendment, and not issue a preliminary injunction to shut down what happened here, you’re wrong," Alsup said according to Bloomberg, who also obtained the transcript. According to the Times, Alsup pointed out to Uber that the company had the right to force Levandowski to speak on the matter and turn over the files — by ordering him to do so, or be fired from the company.
In a statement, Angela Padilla, Uber's associate general counsel, projected assuredness. "We look forward to our first public response laying out our case on Friday, April 7," she said according to Bloomberg. "We are very confident that Waymo’s claims against Uber are baseless and that Anthony Levandowski has not used any files from Google in his work with Otto or Uber."