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The Columbus Dispatch (Ohio)
Mixed among those seated in a packed courtroom on the fourth floor of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas were attorneys and soccer fans clad in Crew SC's black and gold.
For close to two hours on Tuesday, they sat in silence as legal arguments centered on the future of Crew SC played out and Ohio Revised Code 9.67, commonly referred to as the Art Modell Law, had its first day in an open courtroom.
A hearing on the motion brought by Precourt Sports Ventures and Major League Soccer to dismiss Ohio and Columbus' March lawsuit concluded without a ruling from Judge Jeffrey M. Brown, as expected.
"This case is proceeding well, and it will continue," said Brown, who added that the court will take the matter under advisement and issue a decision "as soon as it is practical."
"These are complex matters," Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein said after the hearing. "Judge Brown is going to take it under advisement and we look forward to getting his ruling."
Save the Crew frontman Morgan Hughes said: "From a non-lawyer perspective, you're always wondering what just happened, but if I'm seeing it correctly, this is just one part of the grander process."
It's a process that started in March, when Klein and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine filed a lawsuit arguing that PSV and MLS are not in compliance with the Modell Law in their efforts to explore the relocation of Crew SC to Austin, Texas, after the 2018 MLS season. PSV announced the potential move last October.
The Modell Law states than an owner of a professional sports team whose team plays in a tax-supported facility and who receives public financial assistance cannot move without receiving permission or providing six months' notice and locals the opportunity to purchase the team.
The parties were each given 45 minutes to present their arguments on Tuesday. They used that time largely to underscore points they have made in previous court filings.
Brad Ruskin, an attorney for Proskauer Rose LLP, which is representing MLS, reiterated several of MLS' key arguments used throughout the case in his opening statement: that the lawsuit should be thrown out because it does not apply, that it violates the dormant Commerce Clause and that it is unconstitutionally vague.
With respect to the Commerce Clause, Ruskin argued that the law, on its face, provides special favor to "locals," or Ohio residents, over prospective buyers from out of the area. That favor, or "free dibs" to purchase the team, Ruskin said, would prevent the team from being relocated or sold out of state during the notice period in the Modell Law.
"Can somebody (from outside) the state make an offer? They can. Can that offer be accepted in that six-month period? Absolutely not," Ruskin said. "Can the club relocate during that six-month period? Absolutely not."
Drew Campbell of Bricker & Eckler, which is representing the city for free in this lawsuit, disagreed during the city and state's allotted time, alluding to PSV's efforts to secure a stadium site on public land in Austin.
"(The Modell Law) doesn't prevent the current owner of the team from soliciting or receiving or negotiating offers to purchase from anybody, including people from out of state, during that six-month notice period," he said.
Sam Peterson of the Ohio Attorney General's office opened the city and state's arguments on Tuesday with a line similar to the one used in their response to the motion to dismiss in May.
"No one forced the defendants to take public funds," he said.
The parties left the courtroom much how they entered it: with PSV and MLS believing the lawsuit should be thrown out, Ohio and Columbus believing the case should continue on into the discovery stage, the court not yet having ruled on the motion to dismiss and Crew SC's future in Columbus potentially hanging in the balance.
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