The U.S. won a ruling that will allow prosecutors to discuss with outside lawyers and consultants documents AT&T Inc. gave the Federal Communications Commission to support its proposed purchase of T-Mobile USA Inc.
Special Master Richard Levie in Washington said in an order today that he would allow Justice Department lawyers to discuss confidential material about “economic or engineering models” with lawyers and consultants who represent potential witnesses in the case and who already have access to these materials in a related Federal Communications Commission case.
“The parties face a challenging short pre-trial period, as well as strict limitations on the number of witnesses they may depose and identify,” Levie said. “Plaintiffs’ request will enhance their ability to focus on the pertinent witnesses and to target their pre-trial preparations, thereby facilitating the just and efficient resolution of this matter at trial.”
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 last week that the Justice Department’s request to share the documents with lawyers and consultants for 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 in a Nov. 18 filing.
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. have said.
The Justice Department said in a court filing in support of their request that the ability to discuss material would let it better respond to AT&T’s claims about the benefits of the proposed $39 billion deal during a trial of the government’s antitrust case. The trial is scheduled to start Feb. 13.
AT&T spokesman Michael Balmoris didn’t immediately respond to a voice mail and an e-mailed request for comment after regular business hours.
The case is U.S. v. AT&T Inc., 1:11-cv-01560, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).