Serving AT&T Is Onetime Trump Defender -- WSJ

By Drew FitzGerald and Sara Randazzo Features Dow Jones Newswires

This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (November 25, 2017).

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The lawyer charged with defending AT&T Inc.'s takeover of Time Warner Inc. in court fits the part in a drama that has already featured plenty of big personalities and unexpected twists.

Trial attorney Daniel Petrocelli's client list over the years has included former Enron Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling, boxer Manny Pacquiao, Walt Disney Co., pop singer Kesha and a reality-TV star turned politician named Donald Trump.

The 64-year-old's latest client is bland by comparison: AT&T hired the O'Melveny & Myers LLP partner to defend the phone and satellite company's $85 billion purchase of Time Warner against Justice Department lawyers who say the deal will hurt competition. Observers say the company's choice of legal representation signaled its eagerness to aggressively fight the lawsuit.

"You're not hiring a bunch of paper shufflers," said Patrick Coughlin, a lawyer with Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd, who was one of Mr. Petrocelli's opponents in the case involving Mr. Trump. "He's very comfortable in a courtroom," he said, adding Mr. Petrocelli's conversational demeanor often plays well with judges.

Mr. Petrocelli and his partners at O'Melveny & Myers are known as aggressive litigators who will relentlessly push their client's position, sometimes by attacking opposing counsel, until a court tells them to stop.

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While defending Sirius XM Radio in a case over whether it owed royalties for songs made before 1972, Mr. Petrocelli wouldn't accept a U.S. District Judge's decision to certify the case as a class action. His team filed a motion to decertify the class, which the judge denied last September, saying he had addressed and rejected the exact arguments before. "In the words of Yogi Berra, 'it's déjà vu all over again,'" the judge wrote.

That willingness to doggedly fight in court was matched by an equally tenacious client, Mr. Trump. Mr. Petrocelli represented Mr. Trump in his defense of lawsuits claiming Trump University, the company that ran Mr. Trump's for-profit real-estate courses, defrauded thousands of people.

The 2016 election prompted Mr. Trump to settle that case. Mr. Petrocelli at the time said his client "can fight, as we all know," but opted for a $25 million settlement to avoid more distracting litigation.

The president's shadow looms over Mr. Petrocelli's latest case. AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson on Monday said the question of Time Warner's CNN and its role in the antitrust case was the "elephant in the room," a reference to Mr. Trump's dislike of the news channel.

The Justice Department has said the White House didn't influence its work. The president didn't help the agency Tuesday when he called the deal "not good for the country" in response to a reporter's shouted questions.

At a press conference Monday with AT&T's executives, Mr. Petrocelli demonstrated his trial-lawyer chops. He played an audio recording of Makan Delrahim made before Mr. Trump chose him to run the antitrust division of the Justice Department. In a television interview last year, Mr. Delrahim said that he didn't think the AT&T merger posed significant antitrust problems but that it could raise some concerns about a distributor owning so much content.

"Before he was nominated to lead the antitrust division, Makam Delrahim himself publicly acknowledged the following, will you please play the tape," Mr. Petrocelli said.

"This is more of what you would call a vertical merger," Mr. Delrahim says on the recording. "A content with distribution rather than two competitors merging...I don't see this as a major antitrust problem."

Mr. Petrocelli cut the tape and told the crowd: "And he was right. There is no major antitrust problem. There is no antitrust problem and nothing has changed since Mr. Delrahim gave those remarks."

Mr. Petrocelli first made a name for himself successfully representing Ron Goldman's family in a 1997 wrongful death trial against O.J. Simpson, which followed the former NFL star's acquittal in the criminal trial over the deaths of Mr. Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson.

Mr. Petrocelli kept Mr. Simpson on the witness stand for a blistering two days of questioning. He left his former firm, Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP, for the much larger O'Melveny soon after the victory.

He was the lead defense lawyer for Mr. Skilling, who was convicted in 2006 of lying to investors about Enron's financial health and sentenced to 24 years in prison. He continued the legal fight for years and in 2013 reached a deal to drop his appeals in exchange for a reduced sentence of 14 years.

Mr. Petrocelli hadn't worked for AT&T before it hired him to plan the company's trial strategy early in the Time Warner deal review process. The Los Angeles-based lawyer represented Warner Bros. studios, however, in a contentious case over the rights to the "Superman" franchise.

During a brief conversation following Monday's press conference, Mr. Petrocelli said his experience with Mr. Trump would have no impact on the AT&T case or his litigation strategy: "I don't think it's relevant to this."

--Ryan Knutson contributed to this article.

Write to Drew FitzGerald at andrew.fitzgerald@wsj.com and Sara Randazzo at sara.randazzo@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 25, 2017 02:47 ET (07:47 GMT)