Judge ankles bench on finsyn case

A federal judge whom the Big Three networks were counting on to eliminate longstanding finsyn-related antitrust consent decrees has transferred the case to another judge, prompting a possible further delay in the case.

Parties to the finsyn case were notified Monday that Judge Robert Kelleher of U.S. District Court in Los Angeles transferred the case to Chief Judge Manuel L. Real on Aug. 6.

Kelleher gave no reason for excusing himself from the matter. Though there was speculation the transfer could have been health-related, a spokeswoman at the L.A. court said the 80-year-old Kelleheris “in excellent health” and “has a full caseload.”

Antitrust experience

In the late 1970s, Kelleher presided over antitrust lawsuits filed by the U.S. Dept. of Justice alleging that the networks were engaged in anticompetitive acts to thwart TV program diversity. To settle the suits, the webs entered into consent decrees that in many ways mirrored finsyn rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission.

The finsyn rules barred the networks from taking a financial interest in non-network programs and prohibited the webs from entering the lucrative TV syndication market. The FCC recently set in motion plans to eliminate the finsyn rules entirely, but said the syndication restrictions will be lifted two years after the antitrust consent decrees are nixed.

The consent decrees have remained in place despite Justice Dept. recommendations during the Reagan and Bush administrations that they be tossed out. However, the Clinton administration Justice Dept. has undertaken a new review of the decrees, and Hollywood is hoping the JD will flip-flop and recommend that the regs be retained.

Reps dismayed

Network reps who had been counting on a favorable ruling from Kelleher expressed dismay over the transfer. “If he were going to transfer the case, why didn’t he do it last year?” said one webhead. “Time’s a-wastin’.”

It’s presumed the transfer will prolong the case as Judge Real becomes acquainted with the complicated finsyn issues. However, according to one source, Real prides himself on having a “rocket docket” and does not tolerate delays.

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