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Court throws out previous ruling allowing Belkin to buy out owners

ATLANTA -- Boston-based businessman Steve Belkin suffered a
setback on Tuesday in his long-running attempt to buy out the other
owners of the Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Thrashers.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals threw out a 2006 lower
court ruling that Belkin is entitled to buy out his fellow
Hawks-Thrashers owners at cost and take over the teams. Also at
stake are the operating rights to Philips Arena.

The case was sent back to the Montgomery County (Md.) Circuit
Court for further action.

"It's terrific news for us and I think terrific news for the
fans of the Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Thrashers," said one of the
owners, Bruce Levenson, in a telephone interview on Tuesday night.
"I couldn't be more pleased with the result."

Belkin was forced out of the ownership group following a bitter
dispute in 2005 over the Hawks' decision to trade Boris Diaw, two
first-round draft picks and a $4.9 million trade exception to the
Phoenix Suns for guard Joe Johnson, a 2006 All-Star for the Hawks.

The other Atlanta Spirit LLC owners -- including Levenson, Ed
Peskowitz, Michael Gearon Jr. and Rutherford Seydel -- had the
support of NBA commissioner David Stern in forcing Belkin out and
naming Gearon to replace Belkin as the NBA governor in the group.

The ownership group was supposed to agree with Belkin on an
appraiser to set the price for Belkin's 30-percent share of the
team.

The circuit court judge ruled last year that the group didn't
abide by its agreement when it failed to engage a third appraiser
within five days of objecting to a second appraisal.

"The court of appeals ruled there is an ambiguity in the
contract with regards to who has the right to pick a second
appraiser," Levenson said. "From the beginning this was a process
to buy out a minority partner, and I would expect that process will
now be put back on track. An erroneous ruling by a lower court got
this off track."

Though encouraged by Tuesday's ruling, Levenson stopped short of
predicting the legal fight would soon end.

"There are several roads that lower court could travel,"
Levenson said. "I don't want to begin to guess how that will
work."