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MASN dispute: Judge rules against Nationals, again, but case still drags on

The judge in the MASN dispute ruled against the Nationals and in favor of MASN, again, though the case is no closer to being settled.

The MASN court case may well outlive us all. The multi-million dollar dispute that has dragged on for years between the Orioles, the Nationals, and MLB regarding rights fees paid out by MASN had another big ruling on Monday afternoon that nonetheless doesn’t bring the case any closer to its end.

About eight months ago, the New York court hearing the case tossed out an arbitration award handed down by baseball’s Revenue Sharing Decisions Committee (RSDC), which the Orioles (technically, MASN, which is majority-owned by the Orioles) believed to have been decided against the language of the contract signed between the O’s and MLB when the Nationals moved to DC.

The court, at that time, ruled in favor of MASN and the Orioles, basing its ruling on the fact that the Nationals lawyers were concurrently involved in cases with members of the panel as well as baseball in general. This is a no-no. However, the court did not make any statement about what the next step in the process should be.

From there has been a dispute over several months wherein the Nationals have sought to force MASN in front of the RSDC for a new hearing - which the court did not order - while the Orioles have resisted this, probably believing that there if they didn’t get a fair hearing there before, there’s no way they’ll get a fair hearing now.

In his Monday ruling, Justice Lawrence Marks, who presided over the previous trial, denied the Nationals motion to force the Orioles in front of the RSDC again. The Orioles appealed Marks’ November ruling and the whole matter is now tied up in higher courts.

The Nationals and MLB, in effect, hoped to create a new reality by forcing the Orioles in front of the RSDC again. The judge did not buy this reasoning, citing past court precedent to note that what the Nationals were asking would have created a situation where resources of both the court and the parties were tied up in a pointless second case while the first is still being resolved.

Marks’ conclusion to the ruling stated: “No party in this proceeding may compel or conduct an arbitration with regard to the instant dispute, while the appeals are pending. However, if an agreement or compromise of any kind is reached on the issue by all parties, nothing in this Decision and Order will preclude such an arbitration.”

If you’d like, you can read the full text of the ruling here. I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on television.

This represents a victory for the Orioles because in essence, every time that MASN faces a hearing where the result may be that they’re ordered to pay a ton of money, it’s a victory for them - and a defeat for the Nationals - that MASN is not forced to pay the money right now, today.

One gets the impression Marks is getting somewhat tired of these people and their problems. Though he has not ordered either party into any particular avenue of arbitration, his words in the ruling suggest he would really rather they just figure this out for themselves without needing to get him involved again.

That hasn’t happened yet and unless the Nationals/MLB side of the case (having lost every ruling in this case to date) changes its stance, it probably won’t happen now either.

The ruling means that the status quo continues in the case. MASN isn’t going to pay until a court tells them they must, and in the meantime the Nationals can go on signing players to massive contracts - like the seven year, $175 million contract extension given to Stephen Strasburg in May - while claiming that the MASN deal is harming their ability to be competitive.