Lawyers for the current and previous owners of the Miami Marlins have petitioned a federal court in Miami to take on the lawsuit brought against the team by Miami-Dade County and the city of Miami.
The tactical move from the local circuit court to the federal system isn’t being discussed by attorneys hired by former owner Jeffrey Loria and new guy Derek Jeter and his group of investors.
But a couple of local law gurus who are not involved with the case say the Marlins’ goal is mostly to get a different judge who might be friendlier to a private business in a fight started by government entities.
“There’s no doubt the Marlins want court staff with a better understanding of the law and the issues,” said one well-known lawyer who asked to remain anonymous because he often pleads in the Miami-Dade County system.
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“Judges in the federal system don’t run in elections,” says Ray Rafool, who often represents celebrities in federal court. “They might not be biased where a local judge needs the support of local political entities.
“In this case, the Marlins lawyers appear to just want to get out of the jurisdiction of the state court judge.”
That would be Miami-Dade County Circuit Court Judge Beatrice Butchko, never mind that the former prosecutor is considered a capable judge who has taught litigation strategy at the University of Miami.
In the short month since the county and city filed in her court, she’s had the time to rule on only four relatively simple motions.
Rafool also said the cost of litigating in the federal system is substantially higher than in local courts, something that taxpayers might come to regret in this case.
The Marlins’ attorneys didn’t reply to requests for comment, and one of the lead lawyers on the county’s side, Ryan Zagare, said he couldn’t “offer any insight” into the move.
Last month, the county accused Loria of “fuzzy” and “self-serving” accounting to deceive taxpayers when he claimed a loss on the $1.2 billion sale of the team to former New York Yankees slugger Jeter’s investment group.
In 2009, the Loria Marlins agreed to pay the county and the city a share of the profits in case the team were to be sold.
On Feb. 1, however, Loria’s lawyers and accountants showed the county a summary of profit calculations that indicated $141 million paper loss on the sale — and therefore no money for the county and city.