Washington -- In a tactical setback for the Department of
Justice, a federal judge last week set Feb. 1, 1999, as the trial date in the
government's antitrust suit against PrimeStar Inc., the cable-owned direct-broadcast
U.S. District Judge June Green set the date after hearing
arguments from DOJ lawyers that an early trial date was necessary to promote competition
between DBS and cable operators.
DOJ lawyers urged a Nov. 1 start date, while PrimeStar
attorneys sought a May 1999 beginning.
Timothy O'Rourke, an attorney with Dow, Lohnes &
Albertson, who is representing PrimeStar partner Cox Communications Inc., said
Green's ruling will give PrimeStar the time that it needs to scour DOJ documents
obtained from third parties in the months leading up to the suit.
"I believe, as we all did, that the government's
proposed trial date gave it an undue tactical advantage in the litigation,"
O'Rourke said. "We know that the government obtained a fair amount of
information from EchoStar [Communications Corp.]. None of that material has been made
available to us."
Lawyers on both sides are now working on an agreed-upon
briefing schedule, he added.
Green, who has served 30 years on the federal bench, is 84
years old and semiretired, having taken what's called judicial "senior
Joel Klein, the DOJ's chief antitrust enforcer, filed
suit to block PrimeStar from acquiring the last critical DBS-spectrum assignment, which is
controlled by American Sky Broadcasting Inc., a partnership between Rupert Murdoch's
News Corp. and MCI Communications Corp.
In a speech to the Media Institute June 30, Klein said he
is challenging the deal because a new entrant unaffiliated with incumbent cable operators
would be much more inclined to attack cable markets than cable-backed PrimeStar would be.
However, Klein said a pretrial settlement was still
"As with any litigation, we are always open to the
possibility that there could be an agreed-upon resolution," he said.
O'Rourke declined to comment on the possibility of a