Wayne Gretzky has done a quick about face on his willingness to turn over personal financial records as part of the legal battle over the future of the Phoenix Coyotes.
On Thursday, Gretzky told reporters he was willing to hand over tax records and other financial documents to the City of Glendale, a major Coyotes' creditor.
"That's fine," Gretzky said. "They can have anything they want. Everybody is trying to find a solution or a resolution to this issue."
But yesterday, Gretzky's lawyers filed a motion in an Arizona bankruptcy court to block the city's request, citing personal privacy.
"Mr. Gretzky is a public figure; in fact, he is one of the most recognizable sports figures in the history of the National Hockey League," the lawyers said in the filing. "Mr. Gretzky has a clear interest in maintaining the privacy of his financial records, and his privacy interest is one that outweighs [the city's]need for disclosure of Mr. Gretzky's personal tax records."
The issue surfaced a week ago in a legal filing by Glendale, the Phoenix suburb that financed construction of the arena where the team plays.
The city wants the bankruptcy court to force Gretzky to produce a stack of documents and submit to questioning under oath. Along with being the Coyotes coach, Gretzky is also a part owner and is owed more than $9.3-million (all figures U.S.) according to court filings.
The city is challenging whether Gretzky and majority owner Jerry Moyes, who is owed more than $100-million according to court filings, are legitimate creditors. Glendale wants to know if Gretzky and Moyes received dividends or other payments in return for their ownership stakes.
The Coyotes filed for Chapter 11 protection on May 5 and under bankruptcy laws equity holders usually rank below other creditors, meaning that Gretzky and Moyes would likely receive nothing from the proceeds of a sale of the Coyotes.
In the court filings, Gretzky's lawyers said he would only agree to turn over "non-private, non-privileged documents" and they criticized the city for seeking personal financial information.
"Indeed, it is difficult to conceive how [the city]could possibly demonstrate how Mr. Gretzky's personal tax returns are relevant to the acts, conduct, or property or to the liabilities and financial condition of the [Coyotes] or to any matter which may affect the administration of the [Coyotes']estate."
Judge Redfield T. Baum is slated to hold a hearing on the issue next week. An auction for the Coyotes is scheduled for Aug. 5, but only for bidders interested in keeping the club in Phoenix.
So far only one proposed bid has come forward, from Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bulls. He has proposed offering up to $148-million for the club, subject to several conditions including a new arena lease.
In a court filing yesterday, Reinsdorf's lawyers they are doing "everything in [their]power to develop and submit a bid."