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LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The Securities and Exchange Commission may sue defense giant Northrop Grumman, alleging the company should have been more forthcoming with investors during a proposed merger Lockheed Martin in 1998.

If a lawsuit is filed, the SEC would allege that Northrop failed to give its shareholders the latest information on the status of a Justice Department antitrust investigation before shareholders met to vote on the merger, Northrop Grumman said Tuesday in an SEC filing Tuesday.

The merger was abandoned after the Justice Department expressed antitrust concerns.

The potential SEC action was originally disclosed in a regulatory filing Northrop made Oct. 23. It was also contained in the company's quarterly report Tuesday.

Northrop said SEC staff notified the company by telephone and in writing in September that it was considering recommending to the commission that civil injunctive proceedings be initiated against the company.

Northrop said the charges appeared to be similar to those in several civil lawsuits brought against it and dismissed in federal court on motions made by Northrop.

Los Angeles-based Northrop also disclosed in the filing that a jury in Maryland recently awarded $32.7 million to Fusion Lighting Inc. after finding that Northrop breached its contract with the company by filing for patents based on intellectual property Fusion owned.

Northrop said it expects to gain ``significant relief'' from the verdict either by filing motions or on appeal. The company said that based on that expectation, it does not plan to reserve money to pay the verdict.

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