Barnett Banks Inc. held preliminary discussions last week with the Justice Department to address potential antitrust problems in its bid for First Florida Banks Inc.

The Justice Department has stringently policed bank mergers, analyzing market concentrations and threatening in many cases to bar deals until branches in certain areas are sold.

Barnett, based in Jacksonville, Fla., is worried that its branch count in Hillsborough County will seem excessive after the First Florida combination. It reportedly asked antitrust officials to consider the county, where First Florida is based, in combination with Pinellas County when determining market concentration.

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