To those milling in front of the Miami Arena an hour before game time on March 18, Steven Friedman's pitch sounded too good to be true. The attorney was offering to sell thirteen $29 tickets to that night's Heat match-up against the Indiana Pacers at face value or below - a veritable steal, given the sharklike demand for primo seats in these playoff-crucial times. But before buyers could descend on Friedman, two Miami police officers put him out of business.
And the excuse they heard from Friedman was even more unlikely than his bargain prices. Look, he told the cops, I'm just the trustee of a bankruptcy estate trying to sell off assets. The officers' precise response isn't known, but it very likely ran something along the lines of, Yeah, sure buddy, and we've got a great deal for you on a bridge in Brooklyn. Despite Friedman's frantic attempts to show the officers court documentation, they confiscated his tickets and hustled him into the Heat's administrative office.
There he met with Pauline Winick, executive vice-president in charge of ticket sales, and reiterated that he was merely carrying out his duties as trustee of a bankrupt estate that included thirteen season tickets to the Heat. All well and good, Winick said, but city law prevents anyone from selling tickets without an occupational license. Friedman and Winick then settled on a deal: he would donate all the estate's remaining tickets - the most expensive sold by the Heat - to the Boys Club. No charge was filed and Friedman was free to go.
The next day, however, Friedman changed his mind, perhaps realizing the impromptu pact violated his duty to raise money for creditors by selling all remaining estate assets. Instead, he filed an emergency motion requesting permission to sell Heat tickets without an occupational license. In the grand tradition of needless legal bickering, the matter came before Judge A. Jay Cristol in federal bankruptcy court, on March 27.
The hearing started on a rocky note for Heat fans. Upon learning Friedman had been halted in his duty as a trustee and enticed to relinquish estate assets, the judge immediately sniffed the scent of impropriety.
"I am very greatly distressed at the City of Miami and the Heat for interfering with a federal officer in the performance of his duty," Cristol intoned. "This certainly smells like a case where punitive damages are in order. Under the collar of two police officers, he is herded into the office of people that intimidate him into giving away tickets in violation of his statutory duty. This smells."
Alan Fein, the Heat's general counsel, pointed out to the judge that the Heat had nothing to do with Friedman's detention by police and argued that the trustee had in fact consented to give up the tickets.
Legal scholars are still debating the significance of Cristol's enigmatic rejoinder. "Did you ever hear the story Perry Mason used to tell," the judge shot back, "about the fellow who was riding down the road in his horse and buggy, and a car came along and knocked the horse and buggy off the road, and a police officer ran up and looked at the horse and said, `Ah, a leg is broken'? He pulled out his gun and shot the horse in the head and then he walked over to the driver and said, `Are you all right?' What do you think? Go ahead."
As the proceeding sputtered on, details of a second plan, later approved by Judge Cristol, emerged: Heat officials would allow the trustee to sell tickets to the Heat's five remaining home games, without an occupational license, so long as he steered clear of the Miami Arena.
It didn't take long for Friedman to locate buyers. No sooner had he left the courtroom than he was surrounded by lawyers who got wind of the bizarre hearing and wanted a piece of the action. "I sat through most of that hearing hoping I could score a ticket," says attorney Richard Bennett. "I grabbed Friedman coming out and he sold me one for fifteen bucks. Fifteen bucks! I could have looked high and low for a ticket that cheap and all I had to do is come to bankruptcy court."
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But such craving for Heat seats leads to an obvious question: Why would Friedman resort to selling tickets on a street corner in the first place? The trustee himself refuses to comment on the matter, saying only, "It was an unfortunate situation, but I don't want to go into detail."
Fein is less reticent. "The bottom line," he says, "is that reasonable minds met and Steve can ride off into the sunset with a few extra dollars for the bankruptcy estate." Still, Fein can't help wondering if the whole matter wasn't blown a wee bit out of proportion. "These tickets are only worth $1600. He probably spent half that amount [in trustee's fees] putting his motion together."
Indeed, given the estate Friedman is liquidating, hawking a few dozen Heat tickets would appear to be the least of his concerns. Court records indicate the assets of orthopedic surgeon Patrick J. Barry to be in excess of $2.8 million, including two condos on Fisher Island, one in Antigua, and an office full of medical equipment.
Heat fans, of course, would beg to differ, especially with the season's final home game slated for Thursday night, against the Milwaukee Bucks. Those interested in contacting Friedman, on the remote chance he still has tickets to hawk, will likely find him on game day, at a 2:00 p.m. Barry estate auction, at 5773 NW 74th Avenue. For those who already have tickets, the trustee will be offering a deal on some first-class transportation to the game, courtesy of the estate: a Lincoln Towncar limousine, replete with a bar, an intercom, a compact disc player, and dual color TV sets.