AT&T Inc. asked a court to reject a U.S. request for permission to discuss Federal Communications Commission data with outside lawyers and experts to bolster its antitrust case.
The government hasn’t identified specific documents it wants to share, as the court requested, and didn’t explain why it needs to discuss the information with others, AT&T said today in a filing in Washington federal court.
“Far from being a ‘narrow’ request, plaintiffs seek to share with unnamed outside counsel and experts for unnamed non-parties material produced by defendants to the FCC that are contained in 16 different filings,” AT&T said.
The Justice Department asked the court this week to be allowed to discuss documents AT&T filed with the FCC outlining the expected benefits of its proposed $39 billion takeover of T-Mobile USA Inc with outside lawyers and consultants to better prepare for a trial to start Feb. 13.
The government sued Dallas-based AT&T and T-Mobile on Aug. 31, saying a combination of the two companies would “substantially” reduce competition. Seven states and Puerto Rico joined the effort to block the deal, which would make AT&T the biggest U.S. wireless carrier.
The FCC must rule on whether the transfer of spectrum licenses from T-Mobile to AT&T serves the public interest. The agency is reviewing the transaction.
AT&T said in today’s filing the Justice Department’s request to share the documents with “outside lawyers and consultants representing potential witnesses” is “particularly disturbing,” because such witnesses aren’t usually allowed to see the defendant’s documents.
The documents aren’t relevant to the witnesses’ testimony, “which should be limited to matters within their own knowledge,” AT&T argued.
Sprint Nextel Corp., whose experts the government plans to call as witnesses, might help bolster the case against AT&T if it had access to case documents, lawyers for the U.S. said.
Sprint has the technical expertise to help the Justice Department respond more effectively to AT&T’s claims about the merger, the government said. The court rejected that request, telling the government to seek access to material for Sprint case by case.
The U.S. argued in today’s filing that its request doesn’t place an additional burden on AT&T and doesn’t increase the pool of people who have access to the documents.
AT&T is also defending against private antitrust lawsuits objecting to the deal filed by Sprint Nextel Corp. and Cellular South Inc.
The government’s case is U.S. v. AT&T Inc., 1:11-cv-01560; Sprint’s case is Sprint Nextel Corp. v. AT&T Inc., 11-cv-01600; and Cellular South’s case is Cellular South Inc. v. AT&T Inc., 1:11-cv-01690, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).