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Keker & Van Nest Wins Antitrust Victory for Major League Baseball

San Jose Mercury News

A federal judge Friday struck out San Jose's illegal-monopoly claims against Major League Baseball over a stalled Oakland A's move but still let the city pursue a case involving a ballpark-land deal with the team.

U.S. District Judge Ronald M. Whyte's split decision in a 26-page ruling acknowledged baseball's unique antitrust exemption seems illogical but that it was beyond his authority to change it. The ruling left both sides claiming victory in the dispute over the A's four-plus-year effort to build a new San Jose ballpark over the San Francisco Giants' territorial objections.

"Ninety-nine percent of this case is gone," MLB lawyer John Keker said. "And we're confident that once the rest of the case is developed, the rest of the case will be gone."

The Oakland Athletics have played in Oakland's O.Co Coliseum since their 1968 move west from Kansas City. It's MLB's fourth-oldest ballpark, the last to remain shared with a football team, and has been plagued with plumbing problems. The A's have sought a move to San Jose since 2009 after efforts to develop a ballpark in Oakland and Fremont faltered.

But San Jose lies in territory MLB gave the San Francisco Giants in the early 1990s. The Giants have steadfastly opposed an A's move to Silicon Valley, arguing it's a key part of the team's fan base needed to support their AT&T Park, which opened on the San Francisco waterfront in 2000. Previous A's owners let the Giants claim that territory when the Giants sought a Silicon Valley ballpark in the 1990s.

Nathaniel Grow, who teaches business law at the University of Georgia's Terry College of Business, said the decision is more favorable to Major League Baseball.

"From a legal perspective, it's a huge win for Major League Baseball," Grow said. "They get rid of the most dangerous claims. The one claim that's left isn't of itself going to get San Jose a baseball team."

MLB in a statement was "pleased that the court dismissed the heart of San Jose's action and confirmed that MLB has the legal right to make decisions about the relocation of its member clubs."

"The court dismissed all of San Jose's state and federal law claims challenging that right," the statement said. "We are confident that the remaining state law claims, which assert that San Jose's costs associated with the option agreement for the sale of real estate were increased by the timing of MLB's decision-making process, will be decided in MLB's favor, and that San Jose has not suffered any compensable injury."

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Major League Baseball is represented by Keker & Van Nest attorneys John Keker and Tom Gorman.