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AT&T-Time Warner merger trial set for March 19

The judge presiding over the Justice Department’s antitrust challenge to the AT&T Inc.’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner Inc. has set March 19 start date for the trial, warning the two companies he cannot reach a decision by the time their merger agreement expires on April 22.

WASHINGTON — The judge presiding over the Justice Department’s antitrust challenge to the AT&T Inc.’s T, +1.55%   proposed acquisition of Time Warner Inc. TWX, +0.38%   has set March 19 start date for the trial, warning the two companies he cannot reach a decision by the time their merger agreement expires on April 22.

“It’s just not realistic to be done on the 22nd,” U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said Thursday during a first preliminary court hearing.

The judge told a packed courtroom audience that he would aim to reach a decision in the case by late April or May, and he advised lawyers for the two companies to talk to their clients about the extending the merger agreement. “That would be in everyone’s interests,” Judge Leon said.

For a decision of this complexity and magnitude, the judge said, he will need a significant amount of time after the trial concludes to formulate his decision.

An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ.com.

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