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Rangers bankruptcy judge absolutely reams Chuck Greenberg

Jun 25, 2010, 3:13 PM EDT

Sure, he gave them the hearing date they wanted, but he could make them pay dearly for it.

As I said this morning, the bankruptcy judge presiding over the Rangers case had initially set the hearing for July 9th, switched it to July 22nd, but then today switched it back to July 9th after Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan moved him to do so in order to make sure they can own the team before the trade deadline rolls around.  Schedules just kind of jump around like that in litigation, and as I said before, it’s not of great consequence.  What can be of great consequence, however, is the machinations behind the changing of the schedules, and on that score Chuck Greenberg may have just shot himself in the foot.

According to Evan Grant, when the judge initially pushed the schedule back to July 22nd, Chuck Greenberg said, audibly, and in open court, “Rome is burning.”  See, that was really stupid, because rather than merely to serve as a means of voicing his displeasure at the schedule, it served to directly insult the judge. That phrase does not say “but we need to move more quickly.”  It says “you, judge, are like Emperor Nero. You’re a careless tyrant who does not care that the city is burning down while you sit and fiddle.”

This is not mere speculation on my part. You see, I once filed a brief in court in which I made reference to “Rome burning” in an effort to get the case moved along more quickly.  It wasn’t really my choice — higher ups and the client inserted the phrase and demanded that it stay in there — but my name was on the brief and I was responsible for its contents. I should have deleted it, though.

Why? Because the day it was filed I was called down to the judge’s chambers and was torn a new one. The judge saw it as his integrity and his character being called out. Saying “Rome is burning” to a judge is like using the magic words on an umpire (See “Bull Durham” for what those words are). He also told me that if he really thought I was the one who wrote the phrase — which he didn’t, because he was basically aware of who was really calling the shots — he would have held me in contempt. As it was, it was a pretty stark lesson in professional decorum.

While the Rangers judge ultimately moved the hearing date at Greenberg’s request, he clearly felt the same way about the motion and, in all likelihood, the “Rome is burning line” as my judge did. Just listen to what he said today:

“You need to understand that this court will decide whether to
approve this plan . . . and will not decide based on what the fans want . . . what the media wants . . . what Mr. Nolan and Mr. Greenberg want . . . or what Bud Selig wants. If the
plan fails to meet (the requirements of the bankruptcy code), I will deny
confirmation and we will be back to square one, and it will be on the
head of those who supported this motion . . . For the sake of the Rangers, I do not want to
see this team stuck in Chapter 11 until this fall. You guys
— not me — you guys are the ones who pushed for this date.”

Does that mean that the judge won’t ultimately approve the plan and let the team get sold?  No. But based on those comments I think it’s clear that the judge will be much more critical of it than he would have been otherwise.  What he said was, without question, a warning to that effect.  And you can probably bet the farm that if there are minor differences between the creditors and the Rangers following the mediation, the judge will be inclined to rule in the creditors favor, potentially costing the Rangers some money and maybe some time. 

But even if it doesn’t, what does this say about Chuck Greenberg? I understand his sense of urgency here, and Rangers fans should be
pleased that he’s fighting hard to get this done. But he’s a lawyer, remember. One with far more experience than I have and who should therefore know far better than I do about how one should and one shouldn’t talk to a judge. By forgetting that these past few days he and his team really got under the judge’s skin here, and did so needlessly.

Despite doing so, he won the battle over the case schedule.  But did he unnecessarily risk losing the war?

  1. ChrisKoz - Jun 25, 2010 at 3:33 PM

    It’s not exactly a benchslap, but it’s fairly angry judgemanship.
    It’s common practice in my area of the midwest to refer to women as “Ma’am”. This carries with certain judges, too. There is one local judge, however, that will absolutely explode at the first mention of Ma’am. “I’ve worked too long and hard to be called ma’am. It’s Judge or Your Honor.”
    I mean, it makes sense, normal decorum is to address a judge as such, but that’s a lot to ask for some of the good ‘ol boys around here. It pays to know a judges buttons, I guess.

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