U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon provided some light at the end of a long tunnel for the two companies — and a wide range of others eagerly awaiting the outcome — by promising a ruling June 12. According to numerous reports on today’s proceedings in Washington, which are not being broadcast or streamed, Leon scheduled a hearing for that day, during which he will announce his decision.
The outcome of the high-profile trial held at the U.S. District Court in Washington, DC will have enormous stakes for Hollywood and the media business. When the $85 billion combination was announced in October 2016, it set off a wave of major deals, including some whose regulatory fate is bound up in Leon’s view of the media landscape. Leon is the same federal judge who sided with Comcast as it sought the final OK to acquire NBCUniversal.
The dozens of conditions attached to the Comcast-NBCU deal have come up repeatedly during the legal snag for AT&T. Makan Delrahim, who heads the DOJ’s antitrust division, maintains that the need to supervise companies’ behavior after a merger is an inherently regulatory burden that is at odds with the deregulatory wave being ushered in by President Donald Trump.
The closing arguments brought few surprises. Craig Conrath, lead attorney for the DOJ, recommended that Leon consider imposing a “meaningful remedy.” Such a measure, as Delrahim himself articulated in a separate appearance at a Milken Institute conference today, would require AT&T to sell DirecTV or leave behind Turner Broadcasting, while allowing the rest of the deal to proceed.
Daniel Petrocelli, the lead attorney for AT&T, bashed the government’s case during his closing argument. He said the DOJ had been “cherry-picking” excerpts from company documents in a bid to portray them as “sinister.” Petrocelli also emphasized the benefits to consumers from the deal, deriding the analysis of government experts as “flawed.”