A federal judge in New Jersey yesterday transferred oversight of the American Telephone & Telegraph Co. divestiture agreement to the judge here who tried the government's antitrust case against the company.
The move means that U.S. District Court Judge Harold Greene will have an opportunity to evaluate public comment and pass judgment on the pact, according to representatives of both the government and AT&T.
In a court hearing Tuesday, Greene was sharply critical of the decision by the Justice Department and AT&T to dismiss the case and file the agreement as a modified consent decree before a New Jersey federal judge responsible for monitoring a 1956 decree with the government and AT&T's Western Electric Co. subsidiary.
Both sides said when the agreement was announced eight days ago that they hoped that U.S. District Court Judge Vincent P. Biunno would transfer the entire matter to Greene before adopting the new decree. But Biunno threw a snag into that procedure when he accepted the decree on Monday.
Greene refused to sign off on the dismissal and threatened to continue to try the case, suggesting that the two sides had handled the case on a "haphazard basis" to avoid his oversight. The 1974 Tunney Act is designed to give the public 60 days to comment on consent judgments and to give a judge power to accept or reject such agreements. It also calls for the government to file a competitive impact statement.
Greene angrily criticized the two sides for handling what effectively was a settlement of the case he tried for nine months. "I will not permit this case to be dismissed without the scrutiny required by a congressional act passed just seven years ago to deal with this situation," he said.
Greene did not comment on the Biunno decision, but government spokesmen said the Justice Department will file plans with Greene on Monday for implementing the court review.
"This pretty much takes care of our problem," said Mark Sheehan, a Justice Department representative. "While the scenario is not just as the department proposed, the result, for all intents and purposes is identical. It is our view that Judge Greene can conduct a full-scale Tunney Act review of the agreement."
AT&T expressed similar sentiments, as a company spokesman called the decision "pleasing."