Expos' former limited partners try to block move

Posted: Thursday, September 16, 2004

NEW YORK - Lawyers for the former limited partners of the Montreal Expos plan to ask a federal judge to block major league baseball from moving the team.

The commissioner's office told the U.S. District Court in Miami on Tuesday that it intends to relocate the Expos for 2005 but did not specify where. Washington and Northern Virginia are the leading contenders, and a decision could be announced this month.

Meanwhile, members of baseball's relocation committee met for 11 1/2 hours with District of Columbia government officials Wednesday, discussing specific details of a possible agreement that would move the franchise to the nation's capital.

"We're feeling very good," said Bill Hall, chairman of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission's baseball committee. "We spent 11 hours discussing any and all deal points that baseball coming to D.C. would involve."

Former Juneau-Douglas High School baseball player Chad Bentz was on the major league roster for the Expos for four months this season as a rookie left-handed relief pitcher. Bentz eventually was sent to the minors to work on his slider, and his season ended early when he went on the disabled list with shoulder and foot problems.

In May 2003, U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro-Benages required that baseball give the court 90 days' notice of any attempt to move or sell the franchise, which was bought by the other 29 teams before the 2002 season from Jeffrey Loria, who then purchased the Florida Marlins.

"We have already informed baseball orally that it will be the intent of my clients to seek a preliminary injunction to preserve the status quo," Jeffrey Kessler, a lawyer for the limited partners, said Wednesday. "We probably will look for a schedule for a hearing to be held in November."

In their lawsuit, the 14 limited partners claim Loria and Marlins president David Samson conspired with baseball officials to dilute the minority partners' share of the team from 76 percent to 6-to-7 percent and never intended to keep the franchise in Montreal.

In November 2002, Ungaro-Benages put the racketeering claims against commissioner Bud Selig on hold, telling the limited partners to go to arbitration first with their case against Loria. The arbitration hearing has been completed, but a decision has yet to be issued.

"We hope the arbitrators will issue their decision prior to the hearing in November," Kessler said.

The two-page notice, filed with the court Tuesday by baseball's lawyers, did not give a timetable for a decision.

"Although at this point no decisions as to a relocation site have been made," the memo said, baseball plans "subject to the negotiation of satisfactory terms and the affirmative vote of the major league clubs to relocate the Montreal Expos baseball club in time for the commencement of the 2005 regular season."

Baseball spokesman Rich Levin declined comment. Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, has called the suit "frivolous" in the past.

The relocation committee's meeting Wednesday in Washington came one day after the group met with officials from Northern Virginia for about 2 1/2 hours.

Several cities - including Las Vegas; Monterrey, Mexico; Norfolk, Va.; and Portland, Ore. - have been in contention for the Expos, but the relocation committee has focused on the two Washington-area groups in recent weeks.

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