AT&T, U.S. Government Ask Judge to Block Google Entry Into T-Mobile Case

AT&T Inc. and the U.S. asked the federal judge overseeing the government’s lawsuit seeking to block the company’s purchase of T-Mobile USA Inc. to deny a bid by Google Inc. (GOOG) to enter the case to protect its confidential data.

In separate filings in Washington today, AT&T and the Justice Department told U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle that Google’s request for advance notice of possible disclosures of “competitively sensitive” data is unnecessary and would slow down the litigation.

AT&T said in the filing that its ability to select expert witnesses could be harmed by Google’s proposal that non-parties in the case get five days’ notice before confidential data is turned over to its experts.

“This proposal would grant every non-party the effective ability to veto defendant’s choice of experts, by denying them access to confidential information that is necessary to their work as experts in this case,” Mark Hansen, of Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel PLLC in Washington, a lawyer for AT&T, said in the filing.

Last month, Google, which provided the information to the Justice Department in its investigation of the proposed T-Mobile deal, asked Huvelle to amend her order governing confidential data in the case, claiming that “without such additional protection, Google and other non-parties could find their confidential information -- such as Google’s business plans related to Android -- in the hands of competitors.”

Reduce Competition

The Justice Department sued Dallas-based AT&T and Bonn- based Deutsche Telekom AG (DTE)’s T-Mobile unit on Aug. 31, saying a combination of the two companies would “substantially” reduce competition. Seven states and Puerto Rico joined the government’s effort to block the deal, which would make AT&T the biggest U.S. wireless carrier.

In its filing, the Justice Department and the states said the protective order in the case already offers Google and other non-parties protection from confidential material being publicly released in filings and during court proceedings.

The parties are required to file confidential data under seal and Huvelle has the authority to close the courtroom if such material is going to be discussed, they said.

Google asked Huvelle to require the parties to give three days’ advance notice before confidential information is filed or discussed before trial and one day’s notice before confidential information is discussed at trial.

Advance Notice

“It is impractical to require by court order that the parties provide advance notice of every instance where a confidential document” might be used, the government said in its filing.

AT&T and the government said witnesses must agree to keep the information secret before receiving confidential data and face possible civil or criminal penalties if they misuse that data.

AT&T claims that Google’s proposal would require it to reveal its expert witnesses and potential testifying experts to dozens of non-parties before court-imposed deadlines on when those identities must be disclosed. That, according to the government’s filing, would reveal the parties’ litigation strategies.

Adam Kovacevich, a spokesman for Mountain View, California- based Google, and AT&T spokesman Mike Balmoris didn’t immediately respond to e-mail messages seeking comment.

The case is U.S. v. AT&T Inc. (T), 11-cv-01560, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

To contact the reporter on this story: Tom Schoenberg in Washington at tschoenberg@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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