Pedestrians walk past the Time Warner Inc. Center in New York, U.S. (Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg)

Time Warner Merger Trial Might Be Delayed by Government Shutdown

(Bloomberg) -- A U.S. government shutdown might put the brakes on the Justice Department’s effort to block AT&T Inc.’s proposed takeover of Time Warner Inc. But a judge overseeing the case says he hopes it doesn’t come to that.

"If there is a shutdown, we’re obligated to ask for a stay," Makan Delrahim, chief of the department’s antitrust division, said after a hearing before U.S. District Judge Richard Leon in Washington Friday. A trial scheduled for March 19 might have to be delayed as a result.

But after a government lawyer raised the prospect of a delay, Leon said he’s inclined to keep the case moving with the hope that "cooler heads will prevail" three blocks away at the U.S. Capitol. Temporary government funding runs out at midnight Friday and there’s still no agreement on an extension.

AT&T and Time Warner are trying to consummate an $85.4 billion deal that would marry Time Warner’s content -- including HBO and CNN -- with the telecommunication company’s distribution network. Justice Department lawyers sued in November to block the deal, claiming the combination will reduce competition and increase prices for consumers.

The companies and the government are also fighting over pricing data that the U.S. got from other companies, including Dish Network Corp., separate from the AT&T suit. The Justice Department says the data isn’t theirs to turn over to Time Warner and AT&T, and the other companies don’t have the information either, AT&T’s lawyer said.

Leon likened the dispute to a game of hot potato. He gave the Justice Department until noon Monday to resolve it or face a court order directing the U.S. to return the data to Dish and the other two unidentified businesses. The companies would then have to comply with subpoenas from Time Warner and AT&T or convince him why they shouldn’t have to.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Feb. 2.

The case is U.S. v. AT&T Inc., 17-cv-2511, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

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