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The U.S. suit against AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner likely won’t end until after May

The trial is set for March 19.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson Amir Levy / Getty

A federal judge has set a March 19 trial date for the U.S. government’s case challenging AT&T’s proposed merger with Time Warner.

In doing so, Judge Richard Leon also told the two companies on Thursday that it would be virtually impossible for them to close their deal before April 22. It’s a key deadline: Either side can walk away from the acquisition if it isn’t completed by then, and AT&T would have to pay Time Warner a $500 million breakup fee.

“This is not a normal case from many perspectives,” said Leon at the first status hearing in Washington, D.C.

The $85 billion merger is one of the largest media deals in recent years, signaling the start of more media consolidation as TV businesses have declined thanks to Facebook and Google. Disney is close to acquiring assets from 21st Century Fox, and Comcast* has looked at Fox assets as well.

But the Justice Department’s lawsuit against AT&T suggests media mergers might undergo more scrutiny in the future, or would at least have to wait until AT&T’s case has wrapped.

AT&T initially sought a February hearing; the Justice Department had angled for May.

* Comcast’s NBCUniversal is a minority investor in Recode parent company Vox Media.


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