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Sunday, Sep 24, 2017
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St. Pete prepping for possible Rays court battle

TAMPA - The Tampa Bay Rays officially haven't threatened to move out of St. Petersburg, but the city may be lawyering up even more than previously thought. In April, The Tampa Tribune reported that St. Petersburg had put a law firm called Brown Rudnick LLP on retainer in case the Rays filed for bankruptcy court protection. The idea was that the team might file bankruptcy to get out of its stadium agreement at Tropicana Field. Turns out, that wasn't the only potential court battle that St. Petersburg was preparing for. The city also has talked with several other law firms that might represent it in non-bankruptcy litigation against the team, City Attorney John Wolfe said Wednesday. Various reports have claimed that Major League Baseball might "contract" one or more teams out of existence, including the Rays. Other reports suggest the Rays would move the team out of the city.
St. Petersburg has no reason to believe the team actually plans to do that, but the city needs to be prepared just in case, Wolfe said. So, the city has contacted several firms with experience representing governments in disputes with professional ball clubs. For example, it reached out to a law firm that represented the owner of the Metrodome in Minneapolis when baseball's Twins wanted to leave early, Wolfe said. He didn't specify the lawsuit, but presumably he was speaking about the 2001 lawsuit that pitted the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission against the Twins. So far, St. Petersburg is having a hard time finding a law firm that doesn't have a conflict of interest. Many big firms already have a relationship with Major League Baseball or specific teams and couldn't also represent the city, Wolfe said. Law firms that have such conflicts include the heavyweight firms Carlton Fields and Greenberg Traurig, he said. For now, the city's search seems to be on the back burner. It hasn't reached out to any firms in recent months, but might do so in the future. "We want to have expertise available," Wolfe said. Last week, Mayor Bill Foster confused some on the St. Petersburg City Council by telling them he had a "detailed plan" to keep the Rays in St. Petersburg. Several council people said they didn't know what plan Foster was talking about, and the mayor hasn't revealed anything more since then. Could his detailed plan entail hiring lawyers? Wolfe referred that question to the mayor, who didn't return a call Wednesday. Rick Mussett, a city development administrator and Foster's point man for the stadium, said he couldn't comment. A spokesman for the Rays also didn't return a call Wednesday.

msasso@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7865

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