- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 11, 2003

The Supreme Court said yesterday it will consider blocking some lawsuits that accuse Baby Bell companies of anti-competitive business practices.
The case has big-money implications for the Bells and their rivals in local telephone service. At stake for consumers is the ability to use federal laws to sue over poor phone service, and potentially other things.
The Bush administration urged the court to intervene in this case, which pits a New York consumer against Verizon Communications, formerly Bell Atlantic.
Solicitor General Theodore Olson, the administration's Supreme Court lawyer, said that a lower court decision against Verizon could open courts to multiple lawsuits accusing the Bells of failing to assist their rivals and "could threaten substantial disruption of the telecommunications industry."
The court agreed to consider only part of the appeal.
The fight involves telephone lines, which are owned by the Baby Bells, and which run from relay stations to consumers' homes and offices. The Bells must allow competing telephone companies to lease them, but rivals contend the Bells intentionally provide poor service on the leased lines to ruin their business.
The lawsuit was filed by New York lawyer Curtis Trinko, a local telephone customer of AT&T.; Mr. Trinko's attorney said federal law gives protection to victims of antitrust violations.
Verizon's attorney, John Thorne, said the laws cannot be used by people who were indirectly injured. If they are, then "seemingly anyone in the nation with a telephone" could sue, he wrote in court filings.
Companies including United Parcel Service and VISA had urged the court to overturn the appeals court decision that allowed Mr. Trinko to sue. They said the decision could affect all companies, discouraging firms from "competing aggressively because competitive success will mean that they must share their business assets with less efficient rivals."
The high court yesterday also ruled unanimously that whistleblowers who suspect a local government is misusing federal funds can sue to help recover the money.
The decision is seen as a victory for the Bush administration, which argued that whistleblowers are a major weapon for fighting fraud.
Justices used psychologist Janet Chandler's case to clarify that individuals can sue local governments under the federal False Claims Act, after notifying the federal government. She was fired after claiming wrongdoing at a hospital clinic.
Miss Chandler argued that Chicago's Cook County Hospital and later an affiliate institute improperly used $5 million received from a federal grant between 1989 and 1994. Local officials are accused of lying about the success of a program intended to provide medical services to drug-dependent pregnant women.
The False Claims Act, enacted in 1863, was used rarely against local governments until the law was revised in 1986. Since then, 138 civil suits have been filed by private citizens on behalf of the federal government, and the U.S. Treasury has recovered more than $10 billion, the Supreme Court was told.

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