Oct. 02--The federal government shutdown apparently won't delay the antitrust trial over the proposed merger of American Airlines and US Airways, even though the Justice Department says its lawyers aren't available to prepare their case.
U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly on Tuesday denied a request by the U.S. Department of Justice, which said its personnel are not permitted to work during the shutdown, even without pay.
"A stay at this point would undermine this schedule and delay the necessary speedy disposition of this matter," the Washington, D.C.-based judge wrote in her order. "It is essential that the Department of Justice attorneys continue to litigate this case."
The Justice Department was dealt another setback Tuesday when the state of Texas withdrew as a plaintiff in the case, saying it had reached a settlement with American Airlines.
The Justice Department sued to block the merger on Aug. 13, just days before American Airlines was set to emerge from bankruptcy protection and combine with US Airways.
The department asked the court to delay the case Tuesday morning, hours after funding ran out to continue the federal government's non-essential operations.
"Absent an appropriation, Department of Justice attorneys and employees are generally prohibited from working, even on a voluntary basis, except in very limited circumstances, including 'emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property,' " a court filing by Justice Department lawyers states.
The airlines had pressed for, and received, an early trial date, saying they wanted to get out of court and proceed with their merger.
The first day of arguments is set for Nov. 25, and lawyers say the case should last 10 to 15 business days. Even then, a decision by the judge wouldn't likely come down until January.
The Justice Department had wanted a much later trial date, possibly as late as March.
Tuesday afternoon, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said his state was dropping out of the antitrust lawsuit, bringing the number of states opposing the merger down to six, plus the District of Columbia.
Abbott said Texas reached an agreement with American Airlines to maintain service to 22 airports for at least three years, keep the company's headquarters in Fort Worth and make sure Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport is a major hub for the combined airline.
"This ensures that these 22 airports across the state of Texas, especially in the smaller, rural areas will continue to have service," Abbott said at a news conference announcing the deal.
Abbott, a Republican, is running for governor in November 2014 in a state where the combined airlines employee about 25,000 people.
Terms of the merger agreement have always said the new American Airlines would be based in Fort Worth.
Arizona, Florida, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and Michigan are still plaintiffs in the antitrust lawsuit.
US Airways is based in Tempe, Ariz.
American Airlines has about 6,300 employees in Tulsa, mainly at the company's primary maintenance and engineering facility at Tulsa International Airport.
Kyle Arnold 918-581-8380; firstname.lastname@example.org
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