The U.S. Department of Justice on Friday notified Judge Barbara S. Jones, the presiding judge in the government's antitrust case against Visa and MasterCard, that it is dropping several people from its witness list, including all the Discover card executives and John Reed, the former co-CEO of Citigroup.
The government said it no longer intends to call to the stand Philip Purcell, chairman and chief executive officer of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co.; David Nelms, president and chief operating officer of Discover Financial Services; or Roger Hochschild, executive vice president of business development at Discover.
Other dropped witnesses include Russell Hogg, the former president of MasterCard International; Steve Mott, a former MasterCard executive in charge of electronic commerce and Secure Electronic Transaction technology initiatives; and Michael Rogers, a Saks Fifth Avenue executive.
The removal of the Discover card executives seems to reflect the government's differences of opinion with Discover. Mr. Purcell, testifying before a Senate Banking subcommittee three weeks ago, indicated that he would like the government to revisit litigation his company lost six years ago with Visa U.S.A. That case, known as the MountainWest trial, was an attempt by Discover to overturn a Visa rule prohibiting Discover from issuing Visa cards.
The government does not agree with Discover on this issue. In opening remarks at the trial last week, the government's lead counsel, Melvin A. Schwarz, said the government would not support an effort by Discover to issue Visa cards.
The Justice Department said that even though the Discover executives will not testify in court the government still expects to use testimony they gave in depositions.
Mr. Mott, the former MasterCard executive who is now president of Priceline WebHouse, said the government notified him in late May that it would not call him at trial but would instead use his deposition testimony. "There is still a chance I might be called," he said.
Legal sources said it is not uncommon for plaintiffs and defendants to drop witnesses and that often a witness list is longer than the tally of those who testify.
Visa and MasterCard both issued statements responding to the government's move. MasterCard said the removal of the Discover witnesses "exposes the fact that, at its core, this case is not about serving the interests of the American consumer, only those of American Express."
Visa echoed this view: "This cuts the number of witnesses the government will call to the stand nearly in half, with those left made up almost exclusively of American Express officials," Visa said. "The government once again dramatically reinforces how integral American Express is to its case."