Judge overseeing AT&T, Time Warner merger trial hears document dispute

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – AT&T, owner of DirecTV, is asking for documents from a long list of companies as part of preparation for a trial to determine if they will be allowed to buy movie and TV show maker Time Warner, their lawyer Daniel Petrocelli said in a pre-trial hearing on Friday.

The Justice Department sued in November to stop AT&T, the No. 2 U.S. wireless company, from buying Time Warner for $85 billion because of concerns that it could raise prices for rivals and pay-TV subscribers as well as hamper the development of online video. Trial is set for March 19.

Daniel Petrocelli, who represents AT&T and Time Warner, said that his team had been unable to get data requested from third parties, who had said they no longer had some of it. He asked the government, which did have the data, to return it so it could be subpoenaed.

An attorney for DISH Network Corp at the hearing identified himself to Judge Richard Leon and offered to discuss the dispute but Leon declined.

The third parties included Verizon Communications, Comcast, Cox, DISH, Charter, Disney and Viacom, among others, a source close to the trial said after the hearing.

Leon expressed surprise at the problem.

“So, the only copy they had, they turned over to the government?” he said, calling the situation “rather extraordinary.”

FILE PHOTO: A screen shows the current price of Time Warner shares, above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, shortly after the opening bell in New York, U.S. on November 15, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson/File Photo

Leon said that if no solution was found by noon on Monday, he would order the government to return the data to the companies so that they could then either comply with the subpoenas or fight them in court.

“I think that’s a sensible approach,” Petrocelli told the judge.

Fights over data are common during antitrust trials since companies that are subpoenaed frequently fear that their rivals’ executives will gain access to sensitive internal data….

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