Ruling clears way for move to D.C.

Updated: November 15, 2004, 6:32 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Arbitrators ruled Monday against the former limited partners of the Montreal Expos in their case against former controlling owner Jeffrey Loria, clearing Major League Baseball to move the franchise to Washington.

Jeffrey Kessler, the lawyer for the limited partners, said they will drop their attempt to gain an injunction to block the move. Baseball owners are scheduled to vote on the relocation Thursday when they meet in Chicago.

The deal, subject to the District of Columbia approving financing for a new ballpark by Dec. 31, would be the first move of a major league baseball franchise since the expansion Washington Senators became the Texas Rangers after the 1971 season.

In a suit filed in July 2002, the 14 limited partners accused Loria, Marlins president David Samson, baseball commissioner Bud Selig and several others of violating federal racketeering laws, mail fraud and wire fraud in an attempt to eliminate the Expos, saying their 76 percent share of the Expos became a 6-to-7 percent stake in the Marlins.

Four months later, the suit was put on hold by a federal judge, who told the limited partners to take their case to arbitration first. Still, the judge reserved the right to block a move, and a hearing was scheduled for Dec. 6 in Miami.

Arbitrators John Byrne, Paul Friedland and John Wilkinson ruled against the limited partners in a unanimous opinion.

"We are obviously very disappointed with the decision," Kessler said. "Frankly, we're more disappointed for the fans of the Montreal Expos than we are for ourselves. We thought we were right but the arbitrators disagreed, and this appears to be the end of the road. I don't think we are going to have a basis for continuing to proceed."

Loria sold the Expos to the other 29 teams before the 2002 season and purchased the Marlins from John Henry, who headed the group that bought the Boston Red Sox.

"This is a total and complete victory," Marlins lawyer Bradley Ruskin said. "The arbitration panel rejected each and every claim and allegation that was made against Mr. Loria and Mr. Samson by the limited partners and rejected it 100 percent, so we couldn't be happier."

Selig was angry that he and the commissioner's office were included in the suit.

"This was merely a partnership dispute, and that attempts to include this office and the commissioner were particularly malicious and frivolous," said Tom Ostertag, general counsel in the commissioner's office.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press