Court throws out previous ruling allowing Belkin to buy out owners

Updated: September 11, 2007, 9:44 PM ET
Associated Press

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."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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