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BellSouth Exec Barred From Joining Sprint

February 03, 2003|From Associated Press

ATLANTA — A state court judge in Georgia has granted BellSouth Corp. a temporary restraining order preventing its vice chairman, Gary D. Forsee, from accepting an offer to be chairman and chief executive of Sprint Corp.

A Fulton County Superior Court judge issued the order over the weekend after the company filed the request late Friday, BellSouth spokesman Jeff Battcher said Sunday.

Sprint CEO William Esrey will stay in his job for now, Sprint said Sunday in a statement. The Overland Park, Kan.-based telecom company said its board was "evaluating management succession alternatives" to replace Esrey, who had planned to leave the company, as did Sprint Chief Operating Officer Ron LeMay. Both executives will stay with the company for now.

Forsee, who joined BellSouth in 1999, has a non-compete clause in his contract that prevents him from taking a job with a competitor of the Atlanta-based phone firm. Sprint and BellSouth both sell long-distance service in nine Southeastern states and compete nationally for wireless customers.

BellSouth, the third-largest U.S. local phone company, went to court Friday after Forsee, 52, told the company he wanted to take the Sprint position. Forsee, who was a Sprint executive for nine years, oversees BellSouth's domestic operations.

Forsee did not immediately return a phone call for comment.

BellSouth said it was trying to prevent Forsee from divulging "intellectual capital," including company pricing plans and merger and acquisition information, to a competitor such as Sprint. Forsee also is chair- man of Cingular Wireless, BellSouth's joint venture with SBC Communications Inc.

"BellSouth attorneys and Sprint attorneys are in discussions about this matter," Battcher said.

Sprint is scheduled to report its quarterly earnings Wednesday.

The departure of Esrey, 63, has been expected since Sprint announced in November that he was undergoing chemotherapy treatment after being diagnosed with lymphoma.

Sprint is the nation's third-largest long-distance provider and fourth-largest wireless provider. BellSouth is the dominant local phone provider in the South.

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