NEW YORK — Lawyers for the Baltimore Orioles were met by skeptical questions from a judge they asked to reject an arbitration decision from baseball executives awarding the Washington Nationals $296.8 million for their television rights from 2012-16.
During a three-hour hearing Friday in New York Supreme Court, Justice Joel M. Cohen said he was reluctant to call "balls and strikes" and relitigate the long-running dispute.
"Where is the line between second-guessing sort of normal procedural decisions?" asked Cohen, who did not rule.
Washington wants Cohen to confirm an April 15 award by a reconstituted Revenue Sharing Definitions Committee of three club executives. The RSDC's original 2014 decision was thrown out by a New York court because a law firm representing the Nationals also had represented teams of RSDC members. Baltimore has asked the New York Court of Appeals to reverse a New York Supreme Court Appellate Division decision in 2017 that sent the dispute back to the RSDC for a rehearing.
Baltimore contends a since-repaid $25 million loan from MLB to Washington made the process unfair, the RSDC failed to disclose communications it had with MLB executives and lawyers, and the committee refused to allow certain club broadcast agreements into evidence.
"This tribunal is simply too tainted to be fair and impartial," said David C. Frederick, a lawyer for the Orioles. "The merits were not given a fair shake by the second RSC panel."
Stephen Neuwirth, a lawyer for the Nationals, said there were no reasons for the court not to confirm the award.
The second RSDC decision by Milwaukee Brewers chairman Mark Attanasio, Seattle Mariners President Kevin Mather and Toronto Blue Jays President Mark Shapiro is down slightly from the $298.1 million in the 2014 decision by Pittsburgh Pirates President Frank Coonelly, Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg and New York Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon.
Baltimore claimed the closeness of the figures was evidence the process was flawed.
"Maybe that's the right number?" Cohen said.
The judge repeatedly said courts should not judge the merits of arbitration decisions, only whether the process was defective. Frederick said the outcome pointed to failings.
"Please don't check your common sense when you put on the black robe," he said.
The Mid-Atlantic Sports Network was established in March 2005 after the Montreal Expos relocated to Washington and became the Nationals, moving into what had been Baltimore's exclusive broadcast territory since 1972. The Orioles were given a supermajority partnership interest in MASN, starting at 90%, and Washington made a $75 million payment to the network for an initial 10% stake.
The agreement between the clubs set the network's rights payments to each team at $20 million apiece in 2005 and 2006, rising to $25 million in 2007, with $1 million annual increases through 2011. The deal called for the Nationals' equity to increase 1% annually, starting after the 2009 season, with a cap of 33%. The agreement said any dispute should be decided by the RSDC.
MASN paid the Nationals for 2012-16 what the Orioles proposed: $197.5 million, an average of $39.5 million. Washington argued it should be paid $475 million, an average of $95 million.
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Ronald Blum, The Associated Press