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Judge voices concern about NBA's request for financial restitution

6/25/2008 - NBA

BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- It was akin to a dress rehearsal or, in sports lingo, a walk-through. Disgraced former NBA referee Tim Donaghy walked into a federal courthouse for oral arguments on the league's request for financial restitution Wednesday afternoon, less than three weeks before he's to be sentenced in the same 10th-floor courtroom before U.S. District Court Judge Carol Amon.

Wednesday's outcome could best be described as a draw.

John Lauro, Donaghy's attorney, seemed to come out ahead on the legal maneuvering. But the former ref didn't do much to enhance his public image when he muttered a profanity in the direction of a female reporter after he left the courtroom. And Donaghy, visibly agitated, stalked off briefly when Lauro began to engage a handful of reporters in conversation.

Later, Lauro issued an apology for the ex-ref's short fuse.

"It's just the emotional response to the last year, of being surrounded by press people," Lauro said. "I apologized to [the reporter] on his behalf for his conduct."

Some of the frustration, apparently, comes from Donaghy's belief that he has not received a fair return for his early cooperation in the government's investigation. Donaghy, 41, pleaded guilty last year to betting on games he officiated and offering up confidential information to the gamblers. He faces up to three years in prison at sentencing, scheduled for July 14. Two of the gamblers Donaghy cooperated against -- Thomas Martino and James Battista -- likely face lighter sentences in their scheduled July 11 court appearances. And on Wednesday, the government's lead prosecutor frequently sided with the NBA.

Donaghy strode into the courtroom about 15 minutes before the scheduled start of the hearing, staring straight ahead and avoiding eye contact with any of the 60 or so people who filled the courtroom. He maintained that focused demeanor throughout the hour-long proceeding, occasionally leaning back in a leather chair or sipping from a small plastic cup of water. He rarely looked away from Judge Amon.

Donaghy wore a gray suit, pale yellow shirt, print tie and caramel-color shoes. He sat between Lauro and Warren Flagg, a private investigator and former FBI agent who is part of the defense team.

The only words Donaghy uttered in the courtroom came near the close of the hearing when Judge Amon asked him to stand so that she could address some points to him. Because a hearing on the restitution issue is now scheduled for July 9, just days before sentencing, the judge advised Donaghy, who resides in Florida, that he could skip the hearing.

"I would not like to be here," Donaghy responded.

Donaghy was required to appear Wednesday, and much of what he witnessed went in his favor. The judge voiced serious reservations about the nearly $1.4 million -- up from $1 million in recent days -- the league is seeking as restitution from its former employee. Among other things, Amon said the NBA is likely not entitled to the more than $500,000 billed for its internal investigation.

"Is it even recoverable?" Amon asked of the $516,971 tab for a law firm that interviewed 57 NBA referees as part of the internal investigation.

Amon chided NBA attorneys for not raising the issue when the court asked last October if the league would be seeking restitution, saying, "This comes very late in the game." The judge gave the league until Friday to file additional documents spelling out how it arrived at its restitution fees, and she gave Donaghy's attorney until next Wednesday to respond.

The judge questioned the calculations, telling NBA lawyer Paul Shechtman, "I think there's a serious issue as to whether you're entitled to anything beyond the 2006-2007 season."

Shechtman argued that Donaghy's own betting and dealings with gamblers "comprised a scheme in which we were victimized from beginning to end."

Defense attorney John Lauro countered that the criminal case "had nothing to do with conduct prior to the 2006-2007 season." He also said the NBA's internal review found that Donaghy earned his pay honestly in the earlier seasons.

"No games were rigged," he said. "He called the shots the right way."

The July 9 hearing on what, if anything, Donaghy owes the NBA is scheduled for 9:30 a.m.

Mike Fish is an investigative reporter for ESPN.com. He can be reached at michaeljfish@gmail.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.