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Site for NHL Columbus Trial Set

February 18, 1998

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ The dispute over control of the city’s NHL expansion team will be fought on two fronts.

Franklin County Common Pleas Judge John P. Bessey ruled Tuesday there will be a trial in Columbus over the ownership of the Blue Jackets.

Bessey denied a request from Lamar Hunt, who owns football’s Kansas City Chiefs and Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew, to end the case in Columbus so it can be pursued in New York.

A judge in Manhattan last week agreed to hear part of the dispute and set a March 3 hearing to discuss scheduling. Bessey scheduled trial in the Columbus-filed lawsuit for April 20.

``We are extremely pleased the Blue Jacket ownership issues will be resolved in Columbus,″ said John W. Zeiger, an lawyer for current team owner John H. McConnell. ``All we ever asked for was a trial.″

Anthony J. Celebrezze Jr., a lawyer representing Hunt’s group, Columbus Hockey Ltd., said only that he would be looking at his options.

In a lawsuit filed in New York, Columbus Hockey accused the NHL of breach of contract and fraud and Nationwide Insurance Co. of contract interference. Both have declined to comment.

Nationwide is building a new arena downtown to be the home of the Blue Jackets.

The lawsuit, filed July 3, seeks $50 million in damages and a court order to prevent McConnell’s group, COLHOC Limited Partnership, from controlling the franchise. The Blue Jackets are scheduled to begin playing in October 2000.

The suits grew out of a rift that developed among CHL members after Columbus voters last May rejected a sales tax increase that would have been used to build a downtown hockey arena.

McConnell later formed his investment group, which did not include Hunt, and reached agreement with Nationwide to build an arena.

After the NHL granted the franchise to the COLHOC group, McConnell filed suit in Columbus, seeking the right to acquire and operate the team without Hunt.

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