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Kaplan mum on gist of ruling out in 'couple of days'

NEW YORK -- Arbitrator Roger Kaplan said Tuesday that he will
issue a ruling "in the next couple of days" on an appeal of the
brawl-related suspensions given to four members of the Indiana Pacers.

The case is almost certain to move to federal court if Kaplan
rules in favor of the players and orders reductions in some of the
longest suspensions ever handed down by NBA commissioner David
Stern.
Ron Artest was suspended for the remainder of the season,
Stephen Jackson received a 30-game suspension, Jermaine O'Neal 25
and Anthony Johnson six for their roles in a brawl with fans in
Auburn Hills, Mich., during a Nov. 19 Pacers-Pistons game.
The union asked for substantial reductions in those penalties
during a six-hour arbitration hearing earlier this month. The NBA
declined to participate in that hearing, saying Kaplan had no
jurisdiction to arbitrate penalties for on-court behavior -- an area
in which the league contends the commissioner has sole discretion
on penalties.
Kaplan must rule on two issues: Whether he has jurisdiction to
hear the case and the merits of the grievance itself -- whether
Stern had just cause to issue the lengthy suspensions.
Kaplan declined comment -- aside from disclosing a rough
timetable -- in a telephone interview Tuesday.
The NBA already has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court
challenging Kaplan's authority to hear the grievance, a complaint
that remains pending before U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels.
Court is closed Friday for a federal holiday, but it doesn't
close Thursday until 5 p.m. If Kaplan's ruling were to be issued at
noon Thursday, the case could conceivably be before a judge in a
matter of hours.
Each of the players testified before Kaplan during the Dec. 9
hearing at a Manhattan law office, and union attorneys submitted
three lines of argument on the issue of jurisdiction.
The union cited a 1995 modification to the collective bargaining
agreement allowing for appeals in cases where the financial penalty
to the disciplined player exceeds $25,000. The union also argued
the definitions of what constitutes "reasonable" punishment and
"on-court behavior."
The arbitrator also reviewed videotape of the entire 12-minute
brawl, in which Artest sprinted into the stands and confronted a
fan he believed had thrown a drink at him. Jackson also went into
the stands and exchanged punches with fans, while O'Neal and
Johnson punched fans who came onto the court.