Lawyers for US Airways and American Airlines came out swinging against the Justice Department, holding a conference call with reporters where they vowed to defend their clients' $11 billion merger in court.

"We're litigating this case, period," said Dechert partner Paul Denis, who represents US Airways. He was joined by Richard Parker, a well-known antitrust litigator at O'Melveny & Myers who was recently hired by US Airways to serve as lead trial counsel. Jones Day partner Joe Sims is among a team of lawyers from the firm representing American's parent company AMR Corp.

"The government got this one very wrong," Parker said. "Both companies are looking forward with confidence to their day in court."

The Justice Department, along with six states and the District of Columbia filed suit yesterday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to block the merger, which would create the world's largest airline.

Denis said the suit was not a surprise, but added that he was "surprised the complaint was not stronger. We expect the government to put on a better case."

Sims piled on: "This is a kind of kitchen sink complaint. It looks like they pulled up every vegetable in the garden." He also criticized the complaint's length – 56 pages. "If you have to take 56 pages to tell your story, it's probably not that compelling," he said.

The government alleged that the airlines' merger is anticompetitive and would cost consumers hundreds of millions of dollars. "We simply cannot approve a merger that would result in U.S. consumers paying higher fares, higher fees and receiving less service," Justice Department Antitrust Division chief William Baer said yesterday.

Parker, Sims and Denis vigorously disputed the claim, arguing that the merger would actually benefit consumers via lower fares, better service and more routes covered.

Nor did they sound much interested in settling, though Parker said, "If the government has a creative alternative, we'll certainly listen."

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