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People Have Been Waiting in Line Since Yesterday for the AT&T Ruling

Erik Larson, David McLaughlin

Ever since the judge presiding over the AT&T Inc.- Time Warner Inc. merger case said he’d take the unusual step of reading his ruling aloud from the bench on June 12, investors, lawyers and journalists have eagerly anticipated this day. Seats in Judge Richard Leon’s courtroom are in such demand that lines began forming outside the E. Barrett Prettyman courthouse in downtown Washington a full day before the scheduled 4 p.m. announcement.

Billions of dollars in the market could turn on the judge’s ruling, but people outside the courtroom won’t know what happened right away. Nobody can leave until the hearing is over. Inside, the use of devices is prohibited. The ban is so strict that guards have been known to demand to see cellphones and laptops to make sure they’re turned off. Violators have been ejected. Leon has ordered a window into the courtroom to be covered so that no one outside the room can see when he takes the bench.

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Usually, the public has instant access to merger rulings because they’re posted online rather than delivered orally in the courtroom. This time, Leon nixed a plan to set up an overflow room for reporters and others where live audio of his decision would be available. As a result, expect a race for the door once the hearing concludes.

Adding to the day’s drama -- and to the crowd of news media and professional line-standers -- a naturalization ceremony is taking place in the hallway of the courthouse, drawing eager family members of the soon-to-be U.S. citizens.

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Oh, and the Washington Capitals are celebrating their Stanley Cup victory with a parade on Tuesday. It is set to conclude just blocks away shortly before Leon begins reading his decision.

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