By Jonathan Stempel
(Reuters) - Tribune Co has won court approval to emerge from bankruptcy, more than 3-1/2 years after seeking Chapter 11 protection following a leveraged buyout that saddled the publisher of the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times with too much debt.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Carey in Wilmington, Delaware, on Friday overruled objections to the plan by a variety of creditors. He said he would confirm Tribune's fourth amended reorganization plan once some revisions were made.
The reorganization will turn over ownership of Tribune to a group of lenders led by JPMorgan Chase & Co, the hedge fund Oaktree Capital Management LP, and Angelo, Gordon & Co, which invests in distressed companies. They will appoint Tribune's seven-member board.
Approval of the plan clears the way for Tribune to seek Federal Communications Commission approval to transfer its broadcast licenses to new owners.
This approval is needed before Tribune can emerge from bankruptcy, and lawyers for the company have said the process could take several months.
In an email to staff, Chief Executive Eddy Hartenstein said he expects Carey to formally approve the plan within several days, and hopes the FCC will then act swiftly. Hartenstein also advised employees to expect "some speculation" about Tribune's future, and to "try to ignore it as much as possible."
Carey had rejected an earlier version of Tribune's bankruptcy plan last October.
In a written opinion on Friday, he characterized Tribune's path to emergence as having been an "arduous journey."
Tribune had been taken private in an $8.2 billion buyout in 2007 by the real estate investor Sam Zell.
But like other newspaper owners, Tribune suffered as the economy slid into a deep recession and advertising revenue tumbled, in part because more readers were getting news from the Internet. It filed for Chapter 11 protection on December 8, 2008.
Among Tribune's other newspaper holdings are the Baltimore Sun in Maryland, the Orlando Sentinel and Sun Sentinel in Florida, and the Hartford Courant in Connecticut.
Tribune also owns 23 television stations, including the superstation WGN in its hometown of Chicago, as well as the WGN radio station.
The company has during its bankruptcy revamped management and sold the Chicago Cubs baseball team. Asset sales are expected to continue after the bankruptcy ends.
Among those whose objections to the plan were overruled by Carey were the hedge fund Aurelius Capital Management LP, as well as Deutsche Bank Trust Co Americas and Wilmington Trust Co.
The case is In re: Tribune Co et al, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Delaware, No. 08-13141.
(Reporting By Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Bernard Orr)