A federal judge has ruled that the antitrust trial determining the fate of AT&T’s (T +0.5%) $85B bid for Time Warner (TWX +0.2%) will begin March 19.

That decision from today’s hearing means the trial will come earlier than the Justice Dept. wanted, and later than AT&T asked for — but still before the merger’s termination date of April 22.

However, that doesn’t mean a decision will be ready by then. “April 22 is not realistic,” says Judge Richard Leon, who expects a late April or May ruling.

The March 19 start is nearly midway between AT&T’s preferred Feb. 20 date and the government’s preferred May 7 start.

Another pretrial hearing is set for Dec. 21.

In a statement, AT&T General Counsel David McAtee says:

“We thank the Court for its deliberate and expeditious approach to this matter. We understand and appreciate how busy the Court is, and we will promptly discuss the Court’s post-trial schedule with Time Warner. We are committed to this transaction and look forward to presenting our case in March.”

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