DOVER, Del. — Fox Sports fired the latest salvo in the tug of war between Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt and Major League Baseball in a lawsuit against the troubled franchise.
In a filing late Tuesday, Fox Sports Net West asked a Delaware bankruptcy judge to reject any proposed sale of the Dodgers’ television rights that does not abide by the terms of the current contract. McCourt has been counting on the sale of TV rights to keep the franchise afloat.
The filing was first reported by the Los Angeles Times and comes as Major League Baseball aims to force a sale of the team with a request for an October hearing on its motion. The Dodgers earlier Tuesday asked a judge to postpone that hearing.
Fox retains exclusive negotiating rights through November 2012, as well as the right to match any other offer under that contract.
The complaint also seeks unspecified damages. The lawsuit claims that the Dodgers already have violated the current Fox contract in part by sharing confidential broadcast rights information — “even after direct and explicit warnings” according to the filing.
A phone message seeking comment from Dodgers attorney Brian Bennett was not immediately returned after business hours Tuesday. An email also was sent to Dodgers spokesman Robert Siegfried.
The team has “fully complied” with the terms of the current contract and awaits court approval for a television rights sale that would “enable the Dodgers to emerge from bankruptcy on a solid financial footing,” Dodgers spokeswoman Lyndsey Estin said in a statement to the Times.
Attorneys for MLB Commissioner Bud Selig asked the judge last week to terminate the Dodgers’ exclusive rights to file a reorganization plan so that the league could file its own plan, which calls for owner Frank McCourt to sell the team.
In asking for an Oct. 12 hearing, league attorneys said McCourt was driving the team to destruction and using the Chapter 11 case to try to resolve his own personal financial problems. They simultaneously filed court papers seeking to disqualify the Dodgers’ bankruptcy attorneys, saying they have been working to advance the interests of McCourt instead of the interests of the team.
Attorneys for the Dodgers fired back, accusing the league of engaging in “heavy handed” and “abusive” litigation tactics to try to cripple the team’s reorganization efforts, which center on an auction of the television rights to future games.
The Dodgers’ attorneys asked the judge to hold a telephone conference Wednesday on their request to postpone a hearing on the league’s motion to force a sale. They argued that the hearing should be delayed until after the judge hears arguments on MLB’s motion to disqualify the Dodgers attorneys and after the team gets the information it needs from the league to challenge the arguments MLB is making in trying to force a sale.
Bennett said the team has been trying to work cooperatively with the league, including in filing its motion for approval of a media rights sale process. That motion is also scheduled to be heard at the Oct. 12 hearing.
But in an email response to a request for comment, Thomas Lauria, an attorney for the league, described the Dodgers’ court filing Tuesday as “ridiculous.”
“They purport to use the fact their counsel is conflicted as a basis for delaying the relief MLB seeks (permitting MLB to file plan pursuant to which the team is sold) while permitting the relief they seek (auctioning off the “media rights”) to go forward,” he wrote.
The Dodgers sought bankruptcy protection in June, blaming Selig for refusing to approve a multibillion-dollar TV deal with Fox Sports that McCourt was counting on.
The league has said that the Dodgers’ plan to sell television rights to future games without league approval as part of its bankruptcy reorganization is “dead on arrival” and would spell the end of the ball club. League attorneys argue that such a sale would breach the Dodgers’ existing contract with Fox Sports, leaving it subject to substantial legal claims, while also providing grounds for termination from the league.
But Bennett said the agreements governing the league’s relationship with its teams are no different from other business contracts, and that Selig’s interpretation of them is not subject to any greater deference by the bankruptcy court.