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Creditors' lawyers poke judge to hurry up and decide

A lone voice of reason emerged from the cacophony around the Phoenix Coyotes in the past couple of days.

Strangely enough, it belonged to two of the lawyers involved, Steven Abramowitz and Donald Gaffney. They represent SOF Investments LP, the Coyotes' largest creditor. The lawyers filed a plea with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the wake of Monday's unnecessary filing activity that asked Judge Redfield T. Baum to get off his duff and make a decision already. People need to get paid, but the Coyotes are continuing to bleed cash while the judge takes his sweet time deciding who is going to own this turkey - the NHL or Jim Balsillie.

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Abramowitz and Gaffney did not put it that bluntly of course. But they did respectfully point out as much in their filing.

"Simply put, SOF believes that with the NHL's preseason having already commenced, the Coyotes continuing to incur massive losses, and the pendency of the Court's decision necessarily affecting the Debtor's ticket sales and other critical business issues, time is of the essence. Any further delay will create undue risk to creditors," the pair wrote.

While the SOF lawyers were trying to prod the judge, others in the case were trying to sway the suburban city of Glendale, where the Coyotes play. Glendale backs the NHL's bid for the team, but Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes said he would make a last-ditch plea in the public portion of council's meeting last night for the politicians to switch to Balsillie.

For his part, Balsillie noted city revenues are down thanks to the recession and told council it can now keep $25-million (all currency U.S.) of his $50-million offer for damages for breaking the arena lease even if Judge Baum picks the NHL's bid over his.

However, the councillors already ignored an attempt by Moyes to talk to them last week (it was against the rules for that type of meeting).

There is no reason to think they are going to be any more receptive in the five minutes granted to speakers at their public meetings.

Officially, the SOF filing was a response to a request by Moyes for the court to order the NHL into mediation on several issues surrounding the auction sale of the club. Those issues are the league's continuing objection to Balsillie as an owner and to him moving the club.

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Also filed on Monday was a brief from Balsillie's lawyers pointing out that Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk admitted in a recent interview on Toronto radio station The Fan 590 that he believes a team owner has the right to block someone else from putting a team in his territory.

A veto, in other words.

But all the Balsillie filing really amounted to was a lot of figurative jumping up and down and yelling, "See! See! They do so have a veto!"

All in hopes of persuading the judge - who said many times he places no faith in anything said in the media - to put aside his clear aversion for a precedent-setting decision on antitrust grounds and hand the Coyotes to Balsillie.

A major part of Balsillie's legal argument is that such a veto exists and is in violation of antitrust law.

The NHL says there may have been one in the past but not any more, that all a franchise move requires is a majority vote of the governors - no matter what its constitution says.

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The judge never seemed interested whenever the matter was raised in court.

Baum did call an emergency hearing for today, but it will not have anything to do with the veto issue.

It is only to hear short arguments from the NHL and Moyes about why he should or should not order them into mediation.

Thankfully, Abramowitz and Gaffney pointed out the futility of this in their brief.

"The 'key issues' the [Coyotes]identify in the mediation motion have been extensively briefed and argued throughout the pendency of these cases - some from the beginning of these cases back in May - and were finally submitted to the court at the sale hearing," the SOF lawyers wrote.

"SOF is gravely concerned that any imposed mediation will unnecessarily delay the court's determination regarding the outcome of the auction and related issues, to the detriment of SOF and other creditors."

In other words, for crying out loud, judge, these things have been argued to death. You have enough written material in front of you to wallpaper the Arena.

Give us a break and rule.

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About the Author
Hockey columnist

A native of Wainfleet, Ont., David Shoalts joined The Globe in 1984 after working at the Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun and Toronto Sun. He graduated in 1978 from Conestoga College and also attended the University of Waterloo. More

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