MASN attorneys call commissioner's comments on fee dispute 'shocking,' 'prejudicial'

MASN says Manfred comments on Orioles-Nationals fee dispute are “highly prejudicial.”

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred made "shocking statements" that are "highly prejudicial" regarding the television-rights fee dispute between the Orioles and Washington Nationals, lawyers for the Orioles-controlled network said Friday.

"It is beyond any reasonable dispute that Mr. Manfred's revelations have poisoned any notion that MLB can or would act in a fair and neutral manner," the attorneys for the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network said in a letter to New York Supreme Court Justice Lawrence K. Marks.

The letter — also signed by Orioles representatives — came in a case in which MASN and the club contend Major League Baseball did not act fairly in seeking to resolve the financial dispute between the neighboring clubs.

An MLB arbitration panel decided in June 2014 that the Nationals should receive about $60 million in broadcast-rights fees per year from MASN, which is majority-owned by the Orioles and televises both teams' games. The network now pays $40 million annually to both clubs.

MASN says Manfred inappropriately influenced the decision of the three-member panel. It says statements he made to the media Thursday demonstrate that MLB is not the proper forum in which to decide the case.

Manfred was quoted in national media outlets Thursday saying, "I think the agreement's clear in MASN." He said he thinks the panel "was empowered to set rights fees. That's what they did, and I think sooner or later MASN is going to be required to pay those rights fees."

If the judge dismisses the panel's June 2014 decision, he could send the case back to MLB, decide it himself or ask a neutral, nonbaseball arbitrator to consider it.

"As Mr. Manfred confirmed by his own statements yesterday afternoon, it would be totally unrealistic to expect that any MLB proceeding could take place free of the views, impressions and conclusions formed in a prior proceeding, which was rife with evident partiality," MASN attorney Thomas Hall wrote in Friday's letter to the judge.

MLB spokesman Pat Courtney declined to comment on Hall's letter.

On Monday, John Buckley Jr., an attorney for MLB, said it is "certainly not true" that top MLB officials influenced the panel's decision.

Buckley's statement came during final arguments in the case. The judge is expected to issue a written decision — it is uncertain when — on whether he will allow the panel's decision to stand.

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