AT&T’s court showdown with the US Department of Justice (DoJ) over the operator’s proposed $85.4 billion merger with Time Warner will kick off on 19 March, a US district court judge ruled.
Judge Richard Leon issued the decision Thursday (7 December), striking a middle ground between the February and May dates requested by AT&T and the DoJ, respectively.
The March date falls little more than a month before the 22 April deadline AT&T and Time Warner have set for the merger’s close. But as noted by Bloomberg Law reporter Liz Crampton on Twitter, Leon does not expect to issue a ruling before the date.
He told company lawyers its “not humanely possible” to rule by their April 22 merger agreement end. Recommended they extend that date.
— Liz Crampton (@liz_crampton) December 7, 2017
In a statement, AT&T general counsel David McAtee said the operator will “promptly discuss the Court’s post-trial schedule with Time Warner”. McAtee added AT&T remains committed to the transaction and looks forward to presenting its case in March.
Both AT&T and the DoJ had previewed their trial arguments in initial court filings.
In the lawsuit filed to block AT&T’s merger, the DoJ argued the deal would harm consumers by “substantially lessening competition among traditional video distributors and slowing emerging online competition”. The DoJ also claimed the merged company be able to “charge its rival video distributors higher prices” for Time Warner content.
AT&T rebutted in its filing, casting the merger as a “pro-competitive, pro-consumer response to an intensely competitive and rapidly changing video marketplace”. AT&T also noted Time Warner already offered licensing terms to its distributors forbidding its Turner property from blacking out stations for seven years following the merger’s close.
A second pre-trial hearing is scheduled for 21 December.