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Best Buy Gets $2 Million for Attorney Fees

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A Taiwanese tech company must pay $2 million for Best Buy's attorneys' fees in a flat-panel price-fixing case, a federal judge ruled.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston on Monday ordered HannStar Display to pay $2,037,011 in attorneys' fees for Best Buy and affiliates. Illston based the award on a special master's report and affirmation by the Ninth Circuit.

Companies including Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Apple buy thin-film transistor liquid-crystal display panels from manufacturers such as Samsung, Toshiba, LG Display and AU Optronics, and use them in computer monitors, notebook computers and televisions. Finished products are sold to retailers, including Best Buy, Wal-Mart and Target.

In September 2012, Illston ordered Taiwan-based AU Optronics to pay $500 million for fixing the prices of its LCD panels.

Ilston ruled after AU Optronics, its U.S. subsidiary and two former top executives were investigated by the FBI, which turned up five years of secret meetings between the company and its competitors. AU Optronics executives met monthly with rivals in hotel conference rooms, karaoke bars and tea rooms around Taiwan.

After an eight-week trial in March 2012, a jury found the company and executives guilty of running a "worldwide price-fixing conspiracy" from September 2001 to December 2006.

LCD panels became a $70 billion global industry by the end of the conspiracy, the Department of Justice said.

"This long-running price-fixing conspiracy resulted in every family, school, business, charity and government agency who bought notebook computers, computer monitors and LCD televisions during the conspiracy to pay more for these products," Deputy Assistant Attorney General Scott Hammond said in a statement after the trial.

The $500 million fine matched the largest fine imposed against a company for violating U.S. antitrust laws.

In 2010, the Northern District of California granted an indirect purchaser plaintiffs class certification, certifying a nationwide class and 23 statewide classes for the price-fixing claims.

Arkansas, California, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, New York, West Virginia and Wisconsin filed complaints around that time.

Samsung was among the first group of manufacturers to settle in 2012. That $538.6 million deal left claims pending against Toshiba, LG Display and AU Optronics.

In 2013, Illston granted final approval to a $571 million settlement from the remaining trio.

LG Display owed $380 million, AU Optronics owed $170 million, and Toshiba owed $21 million.

Illston found that class counsel had received 235,808 claims for more than 10 million LCD products as of Jan. 29, 2013.

Attorneys estimated that class members would receive $64 per monitor or laptop computer purchased and $128 per TV.

A jury subsequently found that HannStar was also involved in the conspiracy.

Best Buy sought $800 million in damages from HannStar, but was granted just $7.5 million.

HannStar manufactures tablets, digital photo frames and portable DVD players, among other products.

Taiwanese companies, including HannStar, AU Optronics, Innolux and Chunghwa Picture Tubes, were slated to ship 52.6 million large-size panels in the second quarter of 2016, or 33 percent of the total worldwide, according to Digitimes Research.

Best Buy and HannStar representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

Plaintiffs' counsel includes Roman Silberfeld, Bernice Conn, Michael Geibelson and David Martinez with Robins Kaplan, of Los Angeles.

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