Deal Tries to Calm Angry Judge in Price-Fixing Case

Faced with an angry federal judge who said he wouldn’t be “railroaded” by the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division into accepting Samsung SDI Co.’s guilty plea to price-fixing, lawyers on both sides offered a revised deal Thursday. 

 But they didn’t change much. U.S. District Judge William Alsup was initially upset that the proposed deal made no provision for restitution to victims in the color display tube industry and required him to approve it on the spot, without a typical review and what’s called a pre-sentencing report.

Samsung was all set to plead guilty to fixing the prices of color display tubes between 1997 and 2006, pay a $32 million fine and spill the beans to investigators about other members of the conspiracy.  Alsup said he wouldn’t go for it without a sentencing report and time to review the deal.  

Meanwhile, in a courtroom down the hall, a huge private class action lawsuit by companies who bought the display tubes at allegedly inflated prices has been dawdling along for nearly four years.  The suit names Samsung and host of  other alleged price-fixing conspirators.

The new criminal plea agreement between Samsung and antitrust prosecutors would still have Samsung pay the $32 million fine.  Now it will be due in full right away, instead of spread over two years, as in the old deal, according to court papers.  The new deal makes clear it still does not include restitution for victims.   But it does point out that the private litigation allows potential victims to pursue multiple actual damages on their own. (Antitrust law provides victims of antitrust price fixing to recover up to three times the amount of their losses.)

A guilty plea by Samsung would be the first in the federal grand jury investigation of the color display tubes industry.   The tubes are used in computer monitors.

Both sides will be back in court May 17 to hear how Alsup likes the new plan.

Case: U.S. v. Samsung SDI Co., No. 11-CR-0162-WHA

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