NEW YORK — A five-judge appellate panel in New York State Supreme Court questioned all sides with skepticism in the long-running television dispute between the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles.
The teams and Major League Baseball argued for about 40 minutes Friday before an Appellate Division panel headed by Justice Rolando T. Acosta, the Eastern Intercollegiate Baseball League pitcher of the year for Columbia in 1977 and 1979.
An arbitration decision by a three-man panel of baseball executives in June 2014 awarded the Nationals about $298 million for the team's 2012-16 television rights from the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, which is owned by both teams and controlled by the Orioles. That decision was thrown out in November 2015 by New York Supreme Court Justice Lawrence K. Marks. He ruled the arbitration was improper because the law firm Proskauer Rose, which represented the Nationals, at times worked for MLB and the teams of all three arbitrators.
Washington and Major League Baseball want the arbitration decision reinstated or to have the case sent back to the sport's Revenue Sharing Definitions Committee for a new hearing. The Orioles want an alternative arbitration.
"You want to go right back into the same dirty swimming pool?" Justice Richard T. Andrias asked Stephen Neuwirth, who represented the Nationals.
Acosta questioned whether there was a lack of "fundamental fairness" in the RSDC. Others on the panel questioned whether the court had to authority to order a different process and whether conflicts of interest were inevitable in the process both teams agreed to.
Paul Clement, representing MLB, said Proskauer's representation was "at most an appearance issue," and said the Nationals have offered to have different representation if there is another hearing before the RSDC.
Orioles lawyer Carter Phillips also said it was not fair that MLB gave the Nationals a $25 million loan in August 2013 in anticipation that it would be repaid from higher broadcast revenue, claiming it had placed a $25 million "bet on the outcome." Neuwirth said the Nationals would be willing to post $25 million at the start of a rehearing before the RSDC.
MASN was established in March 2005 after the Montreal Expos relocated to Washington and became the Nationals, moving into what had been Baltimore's exclusive broadcast territory since 1972. The agreement said that if the parties couldn't agree on a rights fee for 2012-16, it should be decided by the RSDC.
At the time of the hearing in April 2012, the RSDC included Pittsburgh Pirates president Frank Coonelly, Tampa Bay Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg and New York Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon.
The RSDC now includes Milwaukee Brewers chairman Mark Attanasio, Seattle Mariners president Kevin Mather and Toronto Blue Jays president Mark Shapio.
The Appellate Division First Department panel hearing the case also included Justices Rosalyn H. Richter, Marcy L. Kahn and Ellen Gesmer.
Ronald Blum, The Associated Press