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Orioles, Nationals in court over TV revenue dispute

NEW YORK — The Baltimore Orioles, Washington Nationals and Major League Baseball were in court for four hours Monday in a dispute over television rights fees.

Justice Lawrence K. Marks didn’t immediately issue a decision.

The Mid-Atlantic Sports Network was established in 2005 after the Montreal Expos relocated to Washington and became the Nationals. The team moved into what had been Baltimore’s exclusive broadcast territory since 1972.

The Orioles have majority control of the network. When the sides couldn’t agree on the Nationals’ rights fees for 2012-16, the teams appeared before an MLB panel.

The panel consisted of Pittsburgh Pirates President Frank Coonelly, Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg and New York Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon.

The panel said last June the network should pay the Nationals about $298 million from 2012-16, starting at about $53 million for the first year and rising to nearly $67 million for 2016.

When the network didn’t comply, the Nationals tried to end the agreement. MASN and the Orioles sued, contending a conflict because the law firm Proskauer Rose represented MLB and the teams of all three arbitrators. They also said the process was tainted because MLB gave the Nationals a $25 million loan in August 2013 in anticipation it would be repaid after the decision.

Marks last August blocked the Nationals from ending the rights deal while the case proceeds in New York Supreme Court.

Three lawyers for the Orioles and MASN spoke for 1 hour, 40 minutes Monday, and attorney Carter G. Phillips asked Marks to throw out the arbitration decision and either appoint a new arbitrator or tell the parties to pick someone from the American Arbitration Association to rehear the dispute.

“The one thing you cannot do is send it back to the same group,” Phillips said.