The intrigue that has surrounded the beleaguered Los Angeles King hockey franchise for the last year continued with an unusual development Wednesday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
Team owners Jeffrey Sudikoff and Joseph Cohen were prevented--at least temporarily--from selling their 72% stake in the franchise to an investment group led by Colorado billionaire Philip F. Anschutz and developer Edward P. Roski Jr.
What blocked the move was a request for an emergency application for a temporary restraining order by L.A. Kings Ltd., which is the remaining 28% of the team controlled by Bruce McNall's bankruptcy trustee, R. Todd Neilson.
U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Lisa Hill Fenning did not, in effect, have to grant the temporary restraining order but got the parties to agree to put the matter on hold until a hearing a week from today, sources said.
"Cohen was trying to pull a fast deal with Anschutz that ignored the rights of the trustee," said one source.
Wednesday's four-hour session was attended by nearly 20 lawyers, as well as Cohen and McNall, and remained closed to the media despite an attempt by The Times legal counsel to keep it open.
However, two sources told The Times that the Kings contended in court that an immediate sale was necessary because they do not have enough money to continue operations past today.
That became a moot point when Laker and Forum owner Jerry Buss, through his lawyers, stepped in and offered to advance the Kings $500,000 in Senate Seat money. Senate seats are purchased on a year-round basis for all Forum events. Buss had done this before Sudikoff and Cohen purchased the team about a year ago and he has been asked to do it since then.
Buss was not present at Wednesday's hearing but at least one of his lawyers--representing California Sports Inc.--was on hand. A Buss spokesman declined comment, saying: "It was handled according to the confidentiality agreement."
Cohen, who is also the Kings' chairman, refused comment on any aspect of the hearing. Also represented at the hearing was the NHL. Cohen met with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in New York earlier this week, and another potential problem is a growing resentment from a handful of owners over the messy and protracted situation surrounding the Kings.
As early as a year ago, a couple of owners objected to the handling and haste of the $60-million sale of 72% of the Kings to Sudikoff and Cohen from McNall.
Now, these latest legal developments would appear to keep the door open for other potential buyers. And there are several other interested parties who have been in contact with the bankruptcy trustee, some of whom were represented at Wednesday's hearing.
It has been reported previously that one of the group is led by former Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman Peter Guber and Los Angeles investment banker Gary Winnick. Guber has familiarity with the Kings' assets and liabilities since he was heavily involved in negotiations when Sony nearly bought the Kings and Lakers in December 1993.
Another interested group is said to include singer Paul Anka and Montana millionaire Dennis Washington.