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Judge in Ohio Rules Against Browns’ Move : Pro football: Preliminary injunction blocks team’s departure for Baltimore until Cleveland’s suit is heard.

From Associated Press

An Ohio judge issued a preliminary injunction Friday, blocking the Browns from moving to Baltimore until a trial is held in the city’s lawsuit.

In a courtroom proceeding that lasted only five seconds, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Kenneth Callahan announced that he had ruled in favor of the city. Callahan heard three days of testimony earlier this week on the city’s request for the injunction.

Art Modell, the Browns’ owner, announced Nov. 6 he intended to move the team to Baltimore for the start of the 1996 season.

The city is seeking an order forcing the team to stay in Cleveland Stadium until the Browns’ lease expires in 1998.

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“We’re very gratified,” said George von Mehren, a lawyer for the city. “This, however, is just one step in the process of keeping the Browns in Cleveland. But on this Friday afternoon, we’re very happy.”

The judge asked the Browns and the city to submit a suggested trial date by Monday.

Cleveland Mayor Michael R. White, who was on vacation, was “ecstatic,” according to spokeswoman Nancy Lesic.

The Browns could appeal, but preliminary injunctions are difficult to overturn.

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“We’re obviously disappointed by the order,” said Dennis Kelly, a lawyer for the Browns, adding that an appeal was a possibility.

“It’s just one battle in a much larger engagement--to prove to the NFL owners who are voting on this in January that we are going to work tirelessly and not stop our efforts, despite this victory, to keep the team here,” Lesic said.

Dianna Rosborough, a spokeswoman for Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, said the ruling “was not unexpected from a Cleveland judge.”

“We’re extremely confident that ultimately Mr. Modell will be free to move his team from Cleveland, so this doesn’t change our plans in the least bit,” Rosborough said. “We have an extremely strong legally binding contract, so we’re not anxious or worried about this temporary injunction.”

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Maryland state Sen. John Pica, chairman of Baltimore city delegation, agreed.

“No one expected this to be comfortable and we didn’t expect it to come easily. At the same time, you can’t expect a hometown judge facing reelection to rule against his city,” said Pica, in whose district the Browns’ new stadium would be built.

“This is no different than any other tenancy,” he said. “They can leave when the rent is paid. I can’t see how a court can make a tenant stay if they’re willing to pay the remaining rent payments. The decision sounds more emotional than rational.”

Arnold Pinkney, a chairman of the “Save Our Browns” campaign begun by White after the announcement, said the ruling is a motivator for his supporters.

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“Our campaign is separate from the legal campaign--our campaign is to marshal public support here and across the country to keep the Browns in Cleveland,” he said. “This is just a shot in the arm to that effort, particularly to our national backers.”

White had testified that the city faced huge financial losses and a critical loss of prestige if the Browns were to leave town.

He had said the team’s financial impact on the city was conservatively estimated to be $47 million.

White said the loss of the team also would slow the city’s growth and tarnish the “comeback” city image Cleveland had cultivated in the past 10 years.

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Lawyers for the city argued that the team had signed an ironclad, 25-year lease at Cleveland Stadium. But lawyers for the Browns insisted that only Cleveland Stadium Corp.--a company created and owned by Modell--had signed the lease with the city.


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