Last night, the Miami Marlins played in the Little Havana ballpark that taxpayers are still paying off to the tune of more than $2 billion. No one showed up. The announced attendance of 7,003 was the smallest in a decade for any regular MLB game that wasn't relocated due to a hurricane or held in a Little League stadium.
It's not just the godawful excuse for a minor-league roster that's keeping fans away. After years of Jeffrey Loria's mustache-twirling villainy, the new regime at Marlins Park is doing a fine job of keeping up his evil tradition by pulling out all the stops to try to avoid sharing profits from the team sale with taxpayers.
Miami-Dade County is suing the team to try to get the millions of dollars it says Loria and the franchise owe residents after the former owner made upward of a half-billion-dollar profit by selling the Fish to a group led by Derek Jeter. But in court last month, Jeter's regime pulled out a unique legal argument: The baseball team is actually legally owned in the British Virgin Islands, the lawyers argued, meaning international legal rules should apply to the dispute.
Because one corporation with ownership stake in the team is based in BVI, the entire team "is a citizen of the British Virgin Islands," the attorneys argue in a federal court filing first reported by the Miami Herald's Doug Hanks.
By claiming the team is legally a Caribbean entity, the Marlins' attorneys hope to prevent the case from being sent back to state court, where a local judge has already sided once with the county.
If that argument sounds really dumb to you, Miami-Dade's attorney's would agree. They filed a blistering response in court March 26 arguing, in so many words, that trying to claim a franchise based in Little Havana is a British Virgin Islands company is downright insane.
"This is the most local of disputes, involving a locally negotiated contract made between local parties under local law and requiring local performance," the county's lawyers argue. "The Marlins’ position is not only illogical, it utterly lacks legal support."
Millions of dollars are at stake for Miami-Dade County in the legal battle. When local leaders agreed to the worst stadium deal in American history with Loria, they included language requiring him to share a percentage of the profits if he unloaded the franchise within a few years of the new stadium's opening. That seems only fair considering he got a free ballpark paid for by taxpayers that artificially inflated the value of his team by hundreds of millions of dollars.
But in a final stroke of incompetence, the Miami politicians behind the deal wrote the profit-sharing language so that Loria could claim millions in "expenses" from any sale of the team. After Jeter's group paid $1.2 billion for the Marlins, that's exactly what Loria did. Although the terms of the deal say Loria should have to pay 5 percent of the proceeds to the county, his accounts say he actually owes zero dollars and zero cents.
Loria's attorneys have requested arbitration rather than a court battle, but a Miami-Dade judge already rejected that approach. Jeter's group, meanwhile, says the fight should be between only the ex-owner and taxpayers.
In their latest gambit to keep the case in state court, Jeter's group points to a British Virgin Islands company called Abernue Ltd. but doesn't include any details about who owns it or what it does.
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The county says it hardly matters if any other member of the Marlins ownership is an American citizen.
"If even one of the Jeter Marlins’ members is a United States citizen, then the Jeter Marlins is a United States citizen," the attorneys argue in their March 26 filing. "And with that revelation, remand of this local dispute is required."
The argument is just as oily as the fight itself, but the truth remains no one would be rolling around in this unseemly legal muck if Miami's political brain trust hadn't gifted Loria such a lopsided, horribly written stadium agreement in the first place.
Six years later, we're all still paying the price. Let's hope those 7,003 fans last night enjoyed watching the latest embarrassing Fish defeat in the billion-dollar boondoggle.