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[whitespace] AT&T wants KSAR, KCAT cases to be heard in federal court

Saratoga--Saratoga and Los Gatos public-access stations KSAR and KCAT were set to face off with AT&T in court on Oct. 5 to argue that the telecommunications giant does not have the right to boot them from their long-held positions on Channel 6. But AT&T asked that the case be moved to federal court.

Both KSAR and KCAT have been moved to channel 15 in their respective communities, and KICU-TV is now in the channel 6 spot.

AT&T's position in asking for the move to federal court is that the issue falls within the purview of the Federal Communications Commission.

But the cities filed a motion on Oct. 6 on an expedited basis to "remand," or have their case against AT&T sent back to the state courts. Federal court magistrate Patricia V. Trumbull granted Saratoga and Los Gatos' request to consider the matter on an expedited basis, but did not decide on whether to grant the remand itself.

AT&T contends that KICU can claim that under federal "must-carry" laws, AT&T must broadcast KICU on whichever channel they want, and that AT&T has no choice but to comply.

"It is an FCC rule upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court," Andrew Johnson, spokesman for AT&T, argues.

Los Gatos Town Attorney Orry Korb disagrees.

"It is our contention that [AT&T] is doing this solely to delay a hearing on the merits," Korb says. "They were about to have a hearing in the state court and at the last moment bumped it out to create more delay, more confusion and more work, in order to keep the court from considering the merits of our case."

The hearing would have dealt with the cities' request for a preliminary injunction, a court order that KSAR and KCAT be switched back to channel 6 for the duration of the trial.

The attorneys for Los Gatos and Saratoga say they are trying to get the case back to state court because the case concerns a breach of contract, which is not a federal issue. Furthermore, they say AT&T cannot legally comply with KICU's wishes, because their contract with the cities does not permit them to move the location of the two public-access stations.

"They don't have a choice; they can't do it," Korb says. "Nothing in the must-carry laws require AT&T to carry KICU on channel 6."

Now that the cities have filed their motion, any opposition will have to be voiced by next week. After that, the judge could rule on the remand anytime.

"The court already indicated interest since it granted our request," Korb said. "That in itself is already a victory, and I hope it bodes well for the future."

He says that if the case is remanded as he hopes, the cities' next step would be to seek an expedited hearing, which could occur as soon as a few weeks from now.

Johnson responded that at this stage, "The stations will continue to be in their new spots and we will continue to advertise their location [on channel 15]."
Kara Chalmers

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Web extra to the October 14-20, 1999 issue of Metro.

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