An appeals court ruled Tuesday that owners of the Columbus Blue Jackets did not act improperly when they took control of the NHL expansion team and excluded Texas oilman Lamar Hunt.
"This is a major win for us," said John W. Zeiger, the lawyer representing the Blue Jackets' principal owner, Columbus steel company owner John H. McConnell.
The franchise will begin play in October 2000 in Nationwide Arena, which is being built in downtown Columbus.
Ohio's 10th District Court of Appeals ruled that Hunt did not have to pay $920,000 in attorney fees to the lawyers representing McConnell and his partner, Wolfe Enterprises Inc.
But the court also reaffirmed the May ruling of Franklin County Common Pleas Judge John P. Bessey that McConnell did not improperly force Hunt out of the Blue Jackets' ownership group. Hunt owns the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs and the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer.
"We were happy we got what we did," said Anthony J. Celebrezze, an attorney for Hunt. "Obviously, we're grateful that they decided that Hunt Sports didn't have to pay the legal fees of the other side. We're disappointed that the court didn't reverse other aspects of the trial court judgment that would allow three of the investors to walk off with the franchise."
Celebrezze said Hunt's legal team would probably decide within the next 10 days whether to appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court.
McConnell did not respond to a message seeking comment, but Zeiger said, "I think it's fair to say that all of our clients are extremely pleased."
McConnell and his partners reached a deal with Nationwide to build an arena for the franchise after Hunt had turned down a contract with Nationwide. Hunt accused the NHL and Nationwide of bad-faith bargaining and breach of contract.
Hunt countersued in a New York court, seeking to have the NHL franchise taken away from Columbus and asking for $50 million in damages. That case was put on hold while Hunt appealed the Columbus verdict.
Hunt's attorney said the franchise was never in jeopardy.
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