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NEW YORK -- A federal judge's threat to hold trade organizations in contempt of court forced NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, to change its website banner, as well as the banner of merchantsobject.com, a site it launched to criticize the proposed $7.2-billion swipe fee deal currently in the court system.
Today, NACS posted the following message at the top of its home page:
"United States District Court Judge John Gleeson, who is presiding over In [sic] re: Payment Card Interchange Fee and Merchant Discount Antitrust Litigation, has ruled that this website and others like it posted certain information regarding the settlement of that case that was misleading. Additional information as to class members' rights and options under the settlement is available at www.paymentcardsettlement.com."
The merchantsobject.com site posted a similar message with an additional explanation.
"This is not the court-approved case website. The court is concerned, for example, that some class members who visited this site may not have fully understood their rights with regard to the proposed settlement and therefore may have made decisions without complete information. Judge Gleeson recommends that you visit that site before deciding what action, if any, you wish to take regarding the settlement. You may also want to contact the attorneys appointed by the court to represent the interests of the class."
The Merchants Object advisory also includes a link to www.paymentcardsettlement.com, which provides a detailed description of the proposed settlement and class members' rights and options.
As CSNews Online previously reported, Gleeson singled out the merchantsobject.com website on April 11 for telling merchants to "take action" and "opt out" or "object." Gleeson said the wording of the websites could prompt merchants to think that accepting the settlement is not an option.
Gleeson gave the lawyers -- for both pro- and anti-settlement retailers -- one week to submit proposals on appropriate relief. He said he would not order the sites be taken down, but would be willing to consider such relief as a website banner telling visitors that information previously posted could be misleading.
He also ordered that the trade associations provide notice to class plaintiffs' counsel of any communication they intend to send out regarding the settlement.
On April 25, when the deadline had already passed, Gleeson threatened to hold trade groups including NACS, the National Grocers Association and National Restaurant Association, in contempt of court. However, Gleeson also said he would give them a chance to argue why merchantsobject.com should not be taken down. Oral arguments on that issue were scheduled to take place tomorrow.