The friendly merger of Great Western Financial and Washington Mutual Inc. cleared a major hurdle Tuesday, when the Delaware Chancery Court ruled that Great Western's shareholders may vote on the deal June 13 as scheduled.

Rival bidder H.F. Ahmanson & Co. had asked the court to postpone the meeting for 8 to 10 weeks. Ahmanson had argued for the delay, hoping it could elect three new Great Western directors who would then have time to persuade the rest of the board and management to negotiate with Ahmanson.

In a 43-page opinion, Vice Chancellor Jack B. Jacobs said: "The record shows that as a real-world, practical matter, Ahmanson's nominees would have no influence upon the decision of the remaining director majority."

He added, "What is important to shareholders deciding how to vote are the substantive (and primarily economic) arguments for and against the Washington Mutual merger." Those, he said, had been fully aired.

Ahmanson can appeal the decision in the Delaware Supreme Court, but late Tuesday a spokeswoman would not disclose the thrift's plans.

"We're going to be considering the implications of the ruling," she said.

Great Western said it was "very pleased" with the opinion and expects its merger with Washington Mutual to close as soon as early July.

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