By David Johnson WASHINGTON - The Justice Department has filed a
suit against the American Institute of Architects, contending that
the professional group unreasonably restrained price competition.
At the same time, lawyers for the department and the institute
filed a proposed agreement that, if accepted by a federal district
judge, would settle the government's lawsuit against the institute,
which represents 54,000 architects.
In filing suit against the professional association, the
department invoked the Sherman Antitrust Act, which was enacted in
1890 to break up industrial monopolies. The act has been
successfully applied by the Justice Department and the Federal Trade
Commission against professional associations, including those
representing civil engineers, accountants, and lawyers.
The Justice Department also employed the antitrust act against
the architect's group in 1972 in a case involving price quotations
Thursday's action, which grows out of an investigation begun in
the Reagan adminstration, represented a much broader complaint of
anti-competitive activity, Justice Department officials said.
Antitrust lawyers outside the government said that the filing of
the suit also reflects the increased aggressiveness of the antitrust
division, now headed by James Rill. He is regarded by antitrust
lawyers as more pragmatic than his predecessors in the Reagan
administration, who were sometimes thought of as strong adherents of
free market economic theories and turned the antitrust division into
the one of the more moribund units of the department.
Justice Department lawyers said they hoped the suit would lead
to increased price competition for the sale of architectural
services like planning, designing, and supervising construction of
office towers, hospitals, airports, and industrial parks.
``It is certainly important from our perspective to let people
in various professions know that competition plays an important role
in the professions as it does in any industry,'' said Robert E.
Bloch, the chief of the professions and intellectual property
section of the department's antitrust division.
But a lawyer for the architect's group insisted that price
competition already exists in the profession and said the suit would
probably not lead to a reduction in fees.
``Our position has always been that no laws were violated and
the filing does not establish that any laws were violated,'' said
David K. Perdue, associate general counsel for the Institute, which
represents about two-thirds of the registered architects in the
United States. ``I don't foresee a significant effect on the
practice of architecture.''
Architects are already cutting fees in New York in response to
the virtual evaporation of significant new construction projects, a
situation that is having ripple effects elsewhere in the country.
The antitrust division's increased aggressiveness has become
apparent in a number of recent cases. Last year, for instance, it
initiated an investigation into whether some elite East Coast
colleges fixed prices in setting tuition. …