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Angels Contend City Is Trying to Rewrite Lease

Times Staff Writer

A day before a hearing on the team naming issue, the Angels filed court papers Thursday contending that the city belatedly sought to rewrite a stadium lease “to reflect what the city wants the lease to say instead of what the lease actually says.”

The team, seeking to change the name to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, also claimed in the filing that owner Arte Moreno “would not have bought the Angels ... had the lease precluded the name change.”

The city, which argues the stadium lease does preclude the change, will ask Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter Polos today to issue a temporary restraining order, which would prevent the Anaheim Angels from using the new name pending further hearings.

The order will not be granted unless the city can show irreparable harm if the new name is not overturned at once and a substantial likelihood of winning at trial.

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A trial would decide the matter, barring appeals. Winning at trial would be more difficult than simply demonstrating a reasonable chance to win, the standard the city must meet in today’s hearing.

“If the judge denies the temporary restraining order, I think the city has got a real problem,” said Michael Dessent, a professor at California Western School of Law in San Diego.

Temporary restraining orders are rarely granted, said Sheldon Eisenberg, who handles intellectual property and entertainment litigation for the Bryan Cave law firm in Santa Monica. But, he said, “losing a temporary restraining order does not mean your case is doomed.”

Commissioner Bud Selig has not commented since the Angels announced the name change Monday.

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Selig has approved the change, sources said, but he is said to be disappointed the matter has ended up in court and concerned at the possibility the Angels might have broken their lease at a time he has expressly asked clubs not to do so.

The city alleges the new name violates a lease provision requiring the team name to “include the name Anaheim therein.”

In a declaration filed Thursday, former city manager James Ruth said the city wanted to mandate the team be called the Anaheim Angels. Ruth said Disney, then the team owner, refused in case “a future owner may want to change the nickname to something other than the Angels.”

The city contends the Angels “cannot argue with a straight face” that the lease permits a team to call itself by two names, unprecedented in major league history. For the Angels to claim they have not violated the lease, the city argues, is “hyper-technical, verbal hairsplitting.”

Not so, the team responds, noting Anaheim’s failure to get Disney to agree to a mandated Anaheim Angels name puts the city in the position of “trying to enforce a provision that was rejected, discarded and never became part of the contract.” The Angels dismiss the city’s argument that the new name violates standard baseball practice as “an attempt to circumvent the absence of clear lease language.”

The team further argues that the full lease requirement at issue -- mandating the team to change its name to include Anaheim -- was fulfilled when the California Angels became the Anaheim Angels seven years ago.

“The lease does not say that Disney or anyone else had to keep that name forever,” team President Dennis Kuhl said in his declaration.

The team characterizes the city’s position as an effort to modify the lease unilaterally after Moreno had purchased the club.

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Moreno’s lawyer, William Shearer, said in another declaration that Moreno would not have bought the team “if there were any strings retained by Disney or anyone else.”

As an example, Shearer notes that Moreno refused Disney’s request for veto rights over any future move of the Angels, although the team says in its filings it has no plans to leave Anaheim. The stadium lease extends through 2029, with a one-time escape clause in 2016.

While the city claims it would be irreparably harmed if the restraining order is not granted, the Angels claim they would be irreparably harmed if it is. The city argues that, if the Angels are not stopped at once, they will roll out a marketing campaign and print such items as tickets, media guides and news releases so as to “make the name change a fait accompli for the 2005 baseball season.”

The team does not deny such plans, claiming the strategy Moreno envisioned even before his purchase included a name change and revolved around selling the club across Southern California and throughout a 200-mile radius from Anaheim, the Angels’ marketing territory as granted under major league rules.

A temporary restraining order, the Angels argue, would harm current “negotiations regarding broadcast rights and marketing agreements.” Kuhl said the team lost $11.8 million in 2003, $35 million in 2004 and projects losing $12 million to $15 million this year.


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