Unsealed AT&T trial transcripts reveal odd exchange
During an April 4 break in the government’s hotly contested antitrust trial seeking to block AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner, the telecom’s lead lawyer had an interesting question for Judge Richard Leon.
Would it be OK for a lawyer pal to kick in some money anonymously to help pay for the painting of the jurist currently underway?
“One of our lawyers on our team was asked to make an anonymous contribution to a fund for the unveiling of your portrait,” the lawyer, Dan Petrocelli asked, according to transcripts of the trial unsealed Monday.
“I have no involvement in the collection process for the portrait as is the standard practice of all judges,” the judge replied, the transcript shows. “I was asked to provide my committee with names of people who are friends and I have had cases with over the years.”
“I just didn’t want it to be any issue here,” Petrocelli shot back during the sidebar conference, telling the judge he had cleared the subject with a DOJ lawyer. “The other question is, are any of the lawyers invited to attend? I understand it’s in the ceremonial courtroom.”
The judge said the May 11 event was a open to the public so, yes, both AT&T lawyers and government lawyers could attend.
The friendly give-and-take between the judge and AT&T’s lead lawyer — plus some in-trial decisions — raise questions about whether Leon was setting double standards during the much-watched trial, according to a source close to the Justice Department.
The DOJ on Monday filed a 73-page appeal that claimed Leon turned a blind eye toward “fundamental principles of economics and common sense” when he ruled, after a six-week trial, that AT&T could complete its $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner.
Releasing the bench conferences makes it possible for those filing amicus briefs in support of the government’s appeal to quote from the redacted conferences and still meet the Aug. 13 filing deadline.
In another case of preferential treatment of AT&T by the judge, according to the DOJ source, Leon allowed AT&T to cross-examine Sling TV Group President Warren Schlichting using an article in which Schlichting’s boss Charlie Ergen commented about the nature of negotiations with cable companies, further unsealed transcript show.
The questioning came over the government’s objections.
The article in question was not admitted as evidence.
When the DOJ attempted a similar strategy, one source said — the cross-examine of AT&T’s economics expert, Dennis Carlton, using a document Carlton had referred to in his presentation — AT&T objected.
The judge upheld the AT&T’s move.
DOJ lead lawyer Craig Conrath said privately, “So we’ve had cross-examination about things Charlie Ergen said somewhere outside this court,” according to the unsealed transcript. “And it’s been allowed.”
The DOJ also attempted to cross-examine Turner Networks CEO John Martin by playing a 2016 interview Martin gave to CNBC in the courtroom.
Leon didn’t allow it, telling a government lawyer, according to the transcript: “Don’t pull that kind of crap again in this courtroom. Do you understand me?”
In its appeal, the DOJ claims, “The court made the vast majority of its evidentiary rulings during sealed bench conferences and declined to release the transcripts of these conferences to anyone during the trial.”
AT&T on June 14 closed the Time Warner merger, but agreed to operate Time Warner as a separate entity until the appeal is decided.
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