A federal judge has approved the sale of Orange County Register parent company Freedom Communications Inc. of Santa Ana to Digital First Media, which owns the Los Angeles Daily News, among other newspapers.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Mark S. Wallace on Monday approved Digital First’s $52.3 million cash offer for the publisher in the wake of a federal antitrust lawsuit against Los Angeles Times parent company Tribune Publishing Co. of Chicago, which had submitted a higher cash bid of $56 million.

Freedom had asked the court to approve Digital First’s bid, according to the Los Angeles Times, because the company was running out of financing and couldn’t wait for the antitrust litigation to be resolved.

U.S. District Judge André Birotte Jr. last week granted the Department of Justice’s request for a temporary restraining order to prevent Tribune’s purchase of Freedom from going through. The Justice Department argued the sale would harm competition and allow Tribune, which also owns the San Diego Union-Tribune, to raise advertising and subscription prices in Orange and Riverside counties.

Digital First, which is based in Denver, owns more than 50 newspapers nationwide. The sale is expected to close by March 31.

Assistant Attorney General William J. Baer, who filed the antitrust lawsuit against Tribune, praised the court’s decision in a statement Monday.

“Preventing the Los Angeles Times from combining with the Register and the Press-Enterprise will ensure that citizens and advertisers in Southern California continue to benefit from competition and from a diversity of views in their local news coverage,” he said.

Tribune Publishing spokeswoman Hillary Manning said in a statement that the Justice Department does not understand the modern newspaper industry.

“We believe the Antitrust Division continues to overlook the commercial realities of modern media in which Internet-delivered services are aggressively competing with the newspaper industry,” she said.

Digital First Media could not be reached for comment.

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