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Posted at 05:50 PM ET, 09/21/2011

Trial date set for Justice Department lawsuit to block AT&T, T-Mobile merger

A federal judge on Wednesday set a mid-February trial date to hear the Justice Department’s arguments for blocking the $39 billion merger of AT&T and T-Mobile.

U.S. District Court Judge Ellen Huvelle also rejected rival Sprint Nextel’s request for access to Justice documents and expressed skepticism about the company’s request to join Justice’s suit.

The decisions will benefit AT&T and T-Mobile, who had hoped for a trial earlier than Justice’s requested date of late March. And without Sprint in the process, chances of a faster trial and potential to reach a settlement outside of court are greater, experts say. Huvelle said the trial would begin Feb. 13 and last four to six weeks.

Huvelle, of the District Court of the District of Columbia, made the decisions in a preliminary scheduling hearing before a full courtroom of attorneys from all major representatives of the wireless industry, officials from Justice and some officials from the Federal Communications Commission.

Living up to her reputation as a no-nonsense and efficient judge, Huvelle took much of the hearing adding up how many days it would take for both sides to interview witnesses and cross examine them, and she suggested that much of the testimony come to her in writing instead of through longer oral arguments.

She also made clear that she wanted to move forward as “expeditiously as possible,” with the wireless giants facing key milestones next spring that could affect their deal and their businesses.

An attorney for AT&T told the judge that the company has plans to fight for its merger in court and has not reached a settlement with the Justice Department. The company has said it will pursue settlement talks in parallel with its court battle. That does not exclude the possibility of all parties reaching a compromise before the February hearing, experts said.


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Merger in hands of Judge Huvelle

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This post has been updated since it was first published.

By  |  05:50 PM ET, 09/21/2011

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