Unfinished business before RFK renovations vote

MIAMI -- A hearing on the lawsuit aimed at blocking the
Montreal Expos' move to Washington, D.C. will be held in Miami the
day before the capital's city council is scheduled to vote on
millions of dollars in renovations to RFK Stadium to make it ready
for next season.

U.S. District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro-Benages on Friday set
Dec. 6 for the hearing on the motion for a preliminary injunction
against the move sought by 14 former limited partners in the Expos.

The judge left open the possibility she would rule from the
bench at the end of the hearing.

The partners sued in Miami federal court in July 2002 claiming
major league baseball and commissioner Bud Selig fraudulently
conspired with former Expos principal owner Jeffrey Loria to
eliminate Montreal and allow him to buy the Florida Marlins. The
injunction would halt the Expos' move pending trial on the merits
of their claims.

But a three-member arbitration panel's ruling expected by Nov.
15 may make the hearing moot.

Jeffrey Kessler, attorney for the minority partners, told the
judge at Friday's status conference that if the arbitrators were to
rule conclusively against the partners it is "very unlikely we'll
proceed with the motion for preliminary injunction."

But he added he didn't expect an unfavorable ruling.

Loria and Marlins president David Samson, also a defendant in
the suit, and the minority partners were told in 2002 to resolve
their dispute through arbitration. Major league baseball and Selig
were not parties in the arbitration.

The arbitrators ended the hearing last Aug. 18 and said they
planned to release their findings and rulings by Nov. 15.

The Dec. 6 hearing will leave Loria and Samson on the sidelines
since it will only concern whether the Expos will be blocked from
leaving Montreal. But Bradley Ruskin, attorney for Loria and
Samson, raised the possibility he would ask for the hearing to be
closed to the news media and public if the lawyers for the former
partners aimed to disclose confidential financial information about
the Marlins. Ungaro-Benages ordered him to file any closure motion
by Nov. 24 to allow time for her to schedule a hearing for the
media to respond.

Robert Kheel, baseball's lawyer, said at Friday's hearing that
time was pressing for a decision on the injunction motion. He said
the Washington City Council is scheduled to vote Dec. 7 on spending
$10 million to $15 million on RFK renovations.

"Commitments are already being made, people are being hired and
money is being spent to ready RFK between December and April
2005," Kheel said. "RFK was built in 1961 and there has been no
baseball played there since 1971. We need to move quickly. Every
day is hurting us. We need a decision sooner than later."

The judge in reply said that it was possible she could move the
Dec. 6 hearing to an earlier date if the arbitrators rule before
Nov. 15. She added, "If the arbitrators do not rule, we still have
to go."

The minority partners sued after the Expos were bought in 2002
for $120 million by baseball's other 29 teams, freeing Loria to buy
the Marlins. The judge froze their suit last year, pending
arbitration. She also opened a 90-day window before the team could
be moved to give her time to consider motions.