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BellSouth Blocks Sprint CEO Hire

The leadership situation at Sprint took an unusual turn this weekend with BellSouth moving to court to block its vice chairman, Gary Forsee, from accepting an offer to be Sprint's CEO.

Sprint broke the silence on reports of management changes, announcing the CEO position was offered to BellSouth's Forsee, but the Kansas City-based firm's public statement was trumped by an Atlanta judge granting a temporary restraining order preventing Forsee from accepting the Sprint job.

Atlanta's Bellsouth filed for the temporary restraining order in Superior Court of Fulton County, Georgia after failing to convince Forsee to ignore the Sprint advances. Sprint said Sunday that a court hearing would be held "within a few days" to determine whether Forsee's non-compete clause bars him from working for a competing telecommunications firm.

Sprint and BellSouth compete in the long-distance and wireless markets and the non-compete clause in Forsee's contract is at the heart of the dispute. BellSouth believes Forsee's contract bars him from working for a close competitor within 18 months of leaving.

Sprint said chairman and CEO William Esrey and chief operating officer Ronald LeMay would remain in their current posts until the legal battle is straightened out. Esrey is undergoing treatment for lymphatic cancer and Sprint's board of directors was hoping to snag BellSouth's Forsee to take over the top job.

Sprint did not address reports that LeMay would also leave the firm.

The potential leadership crisis at Sprint comes in the midst of a struggle to keep pace with AT&T, WorldCom and Verizon in the U.S. long distance market. Last December, the company cut 1,200 jobs in a company-wide restructuring move that hit the global markets, local telephone and corporate divisions.

Those cuts accounted for about 3 percent of Sprint's workforce and was done to "eliminate overlaps and redundancies" and maintain competitive cost structure, the company explained.