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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Without providing a reason, U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart has recused himself from lawsuits over ownership of The Salt Lake Tribune.
A brief statement of recusal was filed by Stewart on June 27. On Thursday, the three cases were assigned to U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell.
The Tribune's longtime former owners, the McCarthey family, are trying to buy back the paper. The family contends it has a contractual option to buy back the Tribune, which it sold in 1997 to Telecommunications Inc.
The family contends that when AT&T acquired TCI in 1999, it promised to honor the option, but AT&T instead sold it to MediaNews for $200 million.
The family tried three times to get Stewart removed from the cases. It cited his membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which owns The Tribune's competitor, the Deseret Morning News. The News has an involvement in the dispute due to its partnerships with the Tribune in the Newspaper Agency Corp., which prints, distributes and sells advertising for both papers.
The family also contended Stewart had political connections with Sen. Orrin Hatch and former Gov. Mike Leavitt, who the family said opposed it regaining the paper.
"There are always twists and turns in the legal system. We just have to keep following along that path and wherever that takes (us)," family spokesman Phil McCarthey said of Stewart's decision.
MediaNews Chief Executive Officer William Dean Singleton did not think Stewart's removal will change MediaNews' ownership of The Tribune.
"The facts of the case haven't changed. The law hasn't changed," Singleton said. "Any federal judge will hear the case and do the right thing."
Campbell had been in charge of the cases earlier, but recused herself in July 2001 after the News retained a law firm at which Campbell's husband worked. He left the firm in late 2001.
McCarthey said he did not foresee challenging Campbell's assignment to the cases.
One issue to be resolved is an appraisal of the Tribune. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in December overturned Stewart's decision upholding a $355.5 million appraisal of the paper and sent the case back to him. Other issues in the dispute have been stayed pending the outcome of the appraisal question.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)