(CN) - Law firms involved in a class action over the fixed prices of the liquid-crystal display panels market must hand over information subpoenaed by the Justice Department, the 9th Circuit ruled.
The government wants a grand jury to look over nonprivileged information that three law firms had gathered while representing clients in a civil suit that grew out of a 2006 antitrust investigation of the LCD industry.
On Wednesday, the European Commission fined six LCD manufacturers, based in South Korea and Taiwan, for their roles in selling $7 billion euros worth of products to European customers. The fines total nearly 649 million euros, or $859.6 million.
The American law firms who received subpoenas - White & Case, K&L Gates, and Lieff, Cabraser, Heinemann & Bernstein - resisted, and a district court ruled to quash, punting the case to the 9th Circuit.
The federal judge wanted the circuit court to rule on the issue because of the "far-reaching implications" of the decision.
But the district court improperly passed the buck, the San Francisco-based appeals court ruled. The judges reversed the ruling and ordered the subpoenas enforced.
"We do not read the district court's decision as an exercise of discretion but as a passing of the decision to this court," Judge John Noonan wrote. "We are not reviewing an exercise of discretion but a request for guidance."
There is nothing preventing the Justice Department from "closing its grip" on the documents, as there is no evidence that the government "engaged in bad faith tactics," and the documents are not privileged, the panel found.
"By a chance of litigation, the documents have been moved from outside the grasp of the grand jury to within its grasp," Noonan wrote. "No authority forbids the government from closing its grip on what lies within the jurisdiction of the grand jury."