US government ‘open to settlement’ in AT&T/Time Warner trial

27 April 2018 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

Lawyers on each side of the US battle to stop the proposed AT&T merger with Time Warner talked before the trial started about a possible settlement, it has emerged.

And Makan Delrahim, the anti-trust lawyer at the Department of Justice (DoJ), which opposes the $85 billion deal, said yesterday – the last day for evidence at the trial – that he was still open to a settlement.

Lawyers at the hearing in New York are taking a long weekend before they return on Monday to put their final arguments. The judge, Richard Leon, is expected give his verdict soon after. There is no jury.

Delrahim said on Thursday that his “line is always open” if lawyers for AT&T and Time Warner, led by Dan Petrocelli, want to call.

He confirmed reports that Petrocelli had called him before the court hearing started last month to discuss a settlement.

Delrahim told reporters yesterday: “We are the Justice Department. We don’t try to litigate to win, we just want to solve a competitive problem.” But he added: “I never would bring a case I don’t think I could win.”

The two sides are far apart, though. The DoJ fears that AT&T would have preferential access to Time Warner’s content, including its Turner subsidiary’s CNN news service, and would be able to compete unfairly with cable networks and satellite services that rival AT&T’s DirecTV. AT&T offered to set up a structured negotiating framework that it said would nullify those concerns.

Petrocelli complained that the DoJ tried in the last few days to submit documents it had discovered that the government’s lawyers said contradicted statements by AT&T and Time Warner witnesses.

Monday is expected to be the last day of the trial, with time-limited statements by both sides.