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October 23, 2012

Judge recuses himself in anti-trust suit between American and Sabre

A Texas judge has ruled that a state trial judge must recuse himself from hearing the anti-trust suit between American Airlines and Sabre Holdings.

Judge Don Cosby, who presides over the 67th District court, is on the board of directors at the Lena Pope Home, a Fort Worth charity that provides family counseling for at-risk children.

In its motion asking for Cosby's recusal, Sabre said American has made a "substantial financial contribution" to the Lena Pope Home since the lawsuit was filed. American had argued in another court document that the charity receives "broad support from people and businesses throughout this county," adding that Sabre and its lawyers have made "repeated contributions" to the Lena Pope Home and its school.

Opening arguments in the trial were supposed to begin on Wednesday. The Monday recusal will likely push back the start of the trial as a new trial judge will be assigned to the case.

"In making his ruling, the presiding judge stressed that the ruling was not based on any evidence of actual impropriety," American said in a statement. "American wishes to acknowledge the hard work and sacrifice of Judge Cosby and his staff, and we look forward to starting trial on schedule with the new trial judge to be appointed promptly by the presiding judge."

At issue are the fees American and other airlines pay the big travel reservation systems to display flights and make bookings. American wants more of its travel partners, such as travel agencies and websites, to connect directly to American's own reservations system, which would save the airline booking fees.

Sabre and American have been involved in several lawsuits since January 2011 when Sabre temporarily made it more difficult for travel agents to find American's fares in its distribution system. The two companies then attempted to negotiate a new contract agreement through the spring but then renewed legal action against each other this summer.

The two firms have a temporary agreement in place that keeps American's fares in Sabre's travel reservation system through the end of the litigation. American has accused Sabre of anti-trust violations and that Sabre organized an industry boycott of American.

UPDATE: The trial will continue as scheduled with Judge David Cleveland presiding.

Keep reading for full statements from American and Sabre on the judge recusal.

-Andrea Ahles

AMERICAN STATEMENT

"On Monday, the presiding judge of the Eighth Administrative Judicial Region in Texas state court granted a motion filed by Sabre to recuse Judge Donald Cosby, the current trial judge, who had presided over American’s state court case against Sabre since it was filed in 2011. According to the presiding judge, the ruling was to avoid any appearance of impropriety in light of donations by American to a Fort Worth charity for which Judge Cosby is a director.

"The evidence at the hearing reflected that Sabre and its counsel are supporters of the same charity, as well. In making his ruling, the presiding judge stressed that the ruling was not based on any evidence of actual impropriety. American wishes to acknowledge the hard work and sacrifice of Judge Cosby and his staff, and we look forward to starting trial on schedule with the new trial judge to be appointed promptly by the presiding judge."

SABRE STATEMENT

"The only donation Sabre has made since American Airlines’ filed its lawsuit in 2011 was a donation of less than $15 to match an employee’s donation to the Lena Pope Home as part of our Give Together program. Through this effort, Sabre encourages employees to give to organizations they support by offering matching donations. Over the past five years, Sabre and its employees located in the Dallas/Fort Worth area have volunteered at or contributed more than $5 million to nearly 530 different organizations in the local area. All other Sabre-related donations to the Lena Pope Home occurred prior to 2003."

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