Judge Redfield T. Baum did not issue an immediate ruling on whether Jim Balsillie's chief legal strategist, Richard Rodier, would be barred from taking part in the questioning of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and other league executives but the league kept the pressure on the would-be buyer of the Phoenix Coyotes.
Late Tuesday afternoon, after a U.S. Bankruptcy Court hearing about Rodier and about the NHL's request for a large amount of documents from Balsillie and Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes, the league asked the court to rule that no matter who wins the auction for the Coyotes on Sept. 10, that the team cannot be moved from suburban Glendale for the 2009-10 season.
Balsillie wants to move the Coyotes to Hamilton and has said he can do so even though the season starts less than a month after the sale. The other two parties who say they will make a bid, Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and a group of Canadian and American businessmen called Ice Edge Holdings LLC, say they will keep the team in Glendale.
The NHL's lawyers told the court "the NHL schedule has been finalized and released; previously 'open dates' in NHL arenas have been filled with other events; television schedules of both the league's national broadcast partners and the other 29 member clubs' local broadcast partners have been finalized; travel and hotel arrangements have been made; and ticket packages have been created and are being marketed and sold."
The argument was backed up by a lengthy statement from NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly. He argued against the move on a number of fronts from scheduling problems to television contracts to travel bookings. For example, Daly said, the league would be in violation of the collective agreement with the players if it allowed the move because of the problem of back-to-back games switching from Glendale to a city thousands of miles away.
The collective agreement, Daly said, "precludes teams from having to travel more than two and one-half hours on the day of a game, and from having to travel on Christmas. The Los Angeles Kings are currently scheduled to play the Coyotes on December 26. If this game were moved to Hamilton, the Kings would have to make a transcontinental flight on the day of the game in violation of the [agreement]"
Earlier, the NHL asked for a large volume of documents and e-mail messages concerning a wide range of issues, going back to Balsillie's aborted purchase of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2006. Balsillie's lawyers complained this was too broad and that the "NHL is obsessed with finding documents establishing that [Balsillie]and [Moyes]'conspired' to use the bankruptcy laws to suit their respective purposes. This court has already told the NHL that 'financially challenged sports teams' have the right to utilize the bankruptcy laws."
The NHL argued that Rodier should not be allowed to attend any depositions of its personnel because he himself will be examined by the league's lawyers. People who are being examined can be excluded from sitting in on the examinations of others under U.S. bankruptcy law, the league's filing said.
Bettman, Daly and Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs are scheduled to be questioned by lawyers for Balsillie and Moyes beginning Thursday. Rodier will be examined next week.
But the league's biggest problem with Rodier concerned the confidential information that has been filed under seal with the court by various parties. The league's declaration said Rodier has a "propensity to flout the rules and disseminate confidential information," although there is no evidence of this in anything filed with the court.
The league also argued that Rodier, despite being Balsillie's chief legal strategist, is not his duly registered legal representative in U.S. Bankruptcy Court but an officer of PSE, the company Balsillie formed to carry out his NHL purchases. As such, the league argued, Rodier cannot be privy to any confidential information and would have to continually leave the room when such information was discussed, making the examinations awkward.
On the documents issue, the league is apparently trying to prove suspicions that Balsillie and his lawyers were helping The Goldwater Institute, a conservative watchdog group, in a potential lawsuit against the City of Glendale. It requested a long list of e-mails between Balsillie, Rodier, Moyes and others.
The Goldwater Group has successfully sued municipalities, including Phoenix, for improperly spending public money. It served notice it is monitoring the Coyotes' bankruptcy to make sure the city does not offer excessive subsidies to the Coyotes in negotiating a new arena lease with Reinsdorf. Judge Baum recently denied Goldwater lawyers the chance to make arguments in the Coyotes case.
The NHL also thinks Balsillie may have been behind an investigation by the Canadian Competition Bureau. The Bureau looked into whether or not the NHL was acting as a monopoly by preventing anyone from putting a second team in Southern Ontario and concluded it was not, although it said the decision could be revisited.
Balsillie's lawyers rejected both arguments from the NHL, saying the league's request was too time-consuming and was nothing more than a nuisance.
The correspondence with the Goldwater Institute, Balsillie's lawyers said, "shows nothing more than that counsel for [Moyes]relayed that he did not believe it proper to provide information to the Goldwater group."