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Vt. AG seeks documents in Dean Foods settlement

Published on April 4, 2011 3:01AM

Last changed on April 4, 2011 2:21PM

The Associated Press

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) -- The Vermont attorney general wants to evaluate a proposed settlement between some Northeast dairy farmers and a major national milk processor in a class-action antitrust lawsuit.

Dallas-based Dean Foods has agreed to pay $30 million to the dairy farmers and change its milk-buying practices in the region for 30 months to settle the lawsuit.

Assistant Attorney General Elliot Burg told a federal judge in Burlington on Thursday there's been "intense interest" in the settlement in Vermont because "dairy is an important industry in the state."

Attorney General William Sorrell said in court papers obtained by The Associated Press that he was seeking to "advise the public, in the form of the legislature and the Department of Agriculture, as to the merits or deficiencies of the proposed settlement."

U.S. District Judge Christina Reiss said it was the court's responsibility to decide if the settlement was fair but welcomed input from the attorney general.

"I am very interested in what the Vermont Attorney General and any other attorney generals have to say about the settlement," she said.

The cooperative Dairy Farmers of America and its marketing affiliate Dairy Marketing Services are co-defendants in the lawsuit but did not join the settlement, saying it favors certain farmers over others.

They also opposed the plaintiffs' request to unseal some documents marked as confidential that the plaintiffs say are important to educate other farmers about the claims in the case.

The judge essentially turned down the request but told the parties to work out their differences about those documents next week and warned the sanctions would be issued if court records were inappropriately sealed.

"I'm looking for minimal redaction," she said.

The two sides also agreed to cooperate with the attorney general in the case.


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