By Adam Klasfeld

Courthouse News

CN) – Antitrust regulators are close to settling charges over the $26.5 billion merger of T-Mobile and Sprint, a lawyer said Friday, as four more states prepare to join a related challenge.

“The elephant not in the room is the Justice Department,” U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero observed in a courtroom packed with dozens of attorneys representing nine U.S. states and four powerful corporations.

No representative for the Justice Department was not in court this morning to confirm or deny the revelation.

For over a month, the Justice Department has been deliberating privately with the telecommunications giants, their corporate parents and their subsidiaries about whether to sign off on the planned merger.

New York, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi and Wisconsin filed a federal lawsuit earlier this month meanwhile to prevent that from happening.

In court this morning, New York Assistant Attorney General Beau Buffier revealed that Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Nevada will soon join them in an amended complaint that will be filed under seal to protect confidential Federal Communications Commission information and the companies’ trade secrets.

The parties agreed upon a trial date of Oct. 7, expected to last two to three weeks.

Insisting that the proposed merger is “pro-competitive,” T-Mobile’s attorney George Cary predicted that the Justice Department would be “very unlikely to intervene in this proceeding.”

Sprint’s attorney Steven Sunshine emphasized that a settlement with the Justice Department would be “imminent,” an outcome that could shake up the court’s calendar.

“We’re here,” Sunshine said. “We’re ready to go, and we’ll deal with the DOJ when it happens.”

Paula Blizzard, a lawyer representing the state of California, told the judge that the merger is of keen interest to the people of the Golden State, where cellphone ownership is nearly universal.

Blizzard mocked the idea that the Big Four companies do not already suffer from too little competition: “Wouldn’t it be better if we had only three?”

“Wouldn’t it be better if we had only two?” she continued. “Wouldn’t it be better if we had a monopoly?”

The fact that the opposing counsel were named Sunshine and Blizzard was not lost upon Judge Marrero, who played on their names to disclose his own possible “conflict of interest.”

Marrero once sat on the board of New York Telephone Company, which later combined with New England Telephone and Telegraph.

Its successors, the now-defunct companies NYNEX and Bell Atlantic, were later swallowed up by Verizon, which now pays Marrero a pension.

Marrero’s ethics counsel informed him that the money that he receives from T-Mobile and Sprint’s competitor should not pose any conflict because that income is “fixed and fully vested.”

Deutsche Telekom AG, a German-based telecom group that indirectly holds more than 60% of T-Mobile’s stock, and Softbank Group Corp, a Tokyo-based group that indirectly holds approximately 85% of Sprint’s stock, are also listed as defendants.