A-Rod, MLB lawyers agree! Lawsuit doesn’t belong in federal court

By on November 7, 2013
New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez enters MLB Headquarters at 245 Park Ave.

Simmons, Howard/New York Daily News

Yankees star Alex Rodriguez does not attend Thursday’s hearing about his lawsuit vs. MLB.

Lawyers for Major League Baseball and Alex Rodriguez finally found common ground on Thursday: Both sides say the tortious interference lawsuit the scandal-stained superstar filed against commissioner Bud Selig and baseball last month does not belong in federal court.

MLB lawyer Joseph Baumgarten told U.S. District Court Judge Lorna G. Schofield that the lawsuit — which claims Selig and other baseball officials have engaged in a “witch hunt” against Rodriguez during its Biogenesis investigation — should be dismissed because baseball’s collective bargaining agreement and joint drug policy calls for doping disputes to be resolved through arbitration.

Rodriguez attorney Jordan Siev, meanwhile, told Schofield during a hearing in Manhattan federal court on Thursday morning that the suit belongs in New York state court, where it was originally filed on Oct. 3.

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“Neither side really wants to be here,” Schofield said, “but you both are here.”

Schofield ordered MLB to file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit and Rodriguez’s attorneys to file a motion to keep the case in state court by Friday. Rodriguez — to the chagrin of TV crews camped outside the lower Manhattan courthouse on a rainy morning — did not attend Thursday’s hearing.

Siev told Schofield that Rodriguez filed the lawsuit because investigators for Major League Baseball engaged in unethical and sometimes criminal behavior as they gathered evidence against the Yankees’ embattled third baseman, who is appealing a 211-game doping suspension handed down on Aug. 5.

Jordan Siev, one of A-Rod's attorneys, speaks outside of a Manhattan courthouse on Thursday.

Corey Sipkin/New York Daily News

Jordan Siev, one of A-Rod’s attorneys, speaks outside of a Manhattan courthouse on Thursday.

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Repeating allegations Rodriguez’s legal team has made in the lawsuit and in media appearances, Siev said MLB investigators paid off witnesses, threatened witnesses, bought stolen documents and impersonated police officers to gain access to witnesses who live in gated communities.

Siev also claimed an MLB investigator has an “inappropriate sexual relationship” with a witness while MLB officials leaked information to the press in an attempt to “poison the well” against Rodriguez.

Selig, who has been criticized in the past for turning a blind eye to steroid use in baseball, is attempting to “salvage” his reputation before he retires by pursuing Rodriguez “at all costs,” Sieve added.

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The suit was necessary, Sieve added, because Selig and his MLB investigators interfered with Rodriguez’s contract with the Yankees and with future business opportunities.

Baumgarten said that MLB will first seek to have the case dismissed on jurisdictional grounds, but that it would be able to refute Rodriguez’s claims of inappropriate and criminal investigative tactics.

MLB lawyer Joseph Baumgarten is looking to get the A-Rod lawsuit tossed.

Corey Sipkin/New York Daily News

MLB lawyer Joseph Baumgarten is looking to get the A-Rod lawsuit tossed.

Baumgarten said Rodriguez’s allegations are “overstated, misstated and simply false.”

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MLB argued in papers filed on Oct. 7 seeking to have the case moved to U.S. District Court that disputes that arise from collective bargaining agreements are governed by the federal Labor Management Relations Act.

But Siev told Schofield that there is “extensive case law” that permits parties to a collective bargaining agreement to bring complaints to state courts. He cited the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision in a case brought by former Knick Latrell Sprewell, who was suspended and then terminated by the Golden State Warriors after he choked then-coach P.J. Carlesimo in 1997.

Sprewell challenged a suspension imposed by the NBA in federal court. His suit was dismissed and the appeals court affirmed the judge’s decision. But the Ninth Circuit later ruled that federal law did not preempt Sprewell from taking some of his claims to California state court.

Baumgarten said the Sprewell case does not apply in Rodriguez’s lawsuit because Sprewell’s claims were “untethered” to the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement.

“This is not that case,” Baumgarten said.

MLB has said it suspended Rodriguez because he violated its drug policy multiple times over several years and interfered in its Biogenesis investigation.

Rodriguez’s arbitration case resumes on Nov. 18 at MLB’s Park Ave. offices. Arbitrator Fredric Horowitz, who could uphold, reduce or overturn the suspension, is expected to issue a decision by Christmas.

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