Judge in AT&T Trial Orders Unsealing of Most Bench Conference Transcripts

WASHINGTON — The federal judge who presided over the AT&T-Time Warner antitrust trial is allowing the release of transcripts of private bench conferences from the proceedings, but will leave under seal 50 instances where he says proprietary or confidential information was discussed.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon issued an order on Tuesday to release the transcripts, after the Justice Department last week pressed an appellate court to make them public.

The bench conference transcripts contain a record of Leon’s opinions on evidentiary issues and witness objections. The Justice Department is appealing Leon’s ruling in favor of AT&T-Time Warner, and said that public transcripts were necessary as it prepares its case as well as for third parties that want to weigh in on the case via amicus briefs.

The trial proceedings were frequently interrupted as attorneys huddled with Leon for sidebar conferences, with white noise piped in the courtroom to muffle the conversation. But a court reporter still kept a record of what was being discussed.

Although Leon had allowed access to the bench conference transcripts to the attorneys on both sides of the case, he had yet to allow for the public release. He said that he will keep 50 excerpts of the transcripts under seal, which include portions of bench conferences as well as some testimony that took place in closed session. They include 41 of 42 instances the DOJ said should remain sealed, and 9 of 15 excerpts AT&T said should remain under wraps.

In keeping portions under seal, Leon wrote that the interest in protecting confidential business information of AT&T and Time Warner, as well as that of third party witnesses, outweighs the public’s need to access the transcripts.

The Justice Department’s opening brief in its appeal is due on Monday.

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