AT&T wants to move forward with its challenge of the U.S. Justice Department's antitrust suit over the company's proposed $39 billion merger with rival T-Mobile, but the government said today it is mulling whether to pull the complaint or seek to postpone the proceedings.
Federal antitrust lawyers and attorneys for AT&T today quarreled in Washington federal district court over the next steps in the blockbuster antitrust court case.
AT&T in late November withdrew its acquisition application at the Federal Communications Commission, saying the telecommunication company wants a ruling on the merits in the antitrust suit before seeking regulatory approval. The FCC issued a report criticizing the proposed deal between AT&T and T-Mobile.
DOJ’s Joseph Wayland, a veteran antitrust lawyer, said today at a hearing in Washington that the government will decide next week whether to seek dismissal of the antitrust suit without prejudice or seek to put the proceedings on hold.
U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle today expressed skepticism about AT&T’s legal maneuvering, saying there’s a “slight aura” the company is imposing an unfair burden on the court and taxpayers.
Mark Hansen, a partner at Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel, said AT&T decided against parallel proceedings as a practical matter. The FCC, Hansen said, will benefit from Huvelle’s ruling on whether the deal is anti-competitive. Hansen insisted AT&T is not “playing some strategic game” with Huvelle.
The FCC staff report, Hansen said, has no more weight than the Justice Department’s complaint, filed in late August. Hansen called the FCC report a “deeply flawed document” that will lose its heft if AT&T successfully defends against the DOJ’s allegations that the proposed merger will harm consumers.
Hansen insisted the landscape remained unchanged when the AT&T in late November withdrew its acquisition petition. “We have an obligation to proceed with the transaction as it is structured,” Hansen said in court. He said the FCC “will do the right thing in the right time frame.”
AT&T, Hansen said, will go back to the FCC with a full judicial record after the proceedings in Huvelle's courtroom. “We can be back at the FCC with those issues having been decided, and the FCC will have time to act,” he said.
“You have given them nothing to do at this time,” Huvelle noted. She said she has no assurance from AT&T when it will re-file its FCC application.
Wayland of the Justice Department said the government only filed its antitrust suit when it did because there was a pending transaction. “It’s not a real transaction until they file at the FCC,” Wayland said in court.
Huvelle today asked the lawyers to address in court papers what affect her ruling will have on administrative proceedings at the FCC.
Wayland said DOJ will file court papers next Tuesday addressing the government’s position on whether to proceed with the antitrust suit, pull it without prejudice or have the proceedings postponed.
Huvelle scheduled a hearing on the issue for next Thursday.