A federal judge said the stock options of former UnitedHealth Group Inc. CEO William McGuire will stay frozen until Thursday, or until a special review of related shareholder lawsuits is completed.

U.S. District Judge James Rosenbaum ordered the freeze in November 2006, and had extended it twice. It expired Friday. The brevity of the latest extension suggests a special litigation committee appointed by UnitedHealth may be poised to issue its review about how to handle shareholder lawsuits against the company.

Rosenbaum is overseeing the class-action lawsuit concerning the backdating of stock options for key executives that led to McGuire's departure a year ago.

The two-member panel consists of retired Minnesota Supreme Court Justices Kathleen Blatz and Edward Stringer.

McGuire's options were valued at $1.6 billion at the end of 2005, but they are worth less now because they were repriced and because the company's stock has fallen.

In addition to the review by the special litigation committee, there are ongoing inquiries by the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Minnesota attorney general.