Legal Aid Society

The best friend of an athlete in Dutch is often the local magistrate
March 21, 1994

Welcome to "Stevie Wonders," a column that deals exclusively with questions of sports and jurisprudence. Stevie happens to be yours truly, and that rhymes with Gillooly, and that stands for....

Tonya Harding. Last week in Oregon a Portland judge granted the Portland figure skater her latest legal request. Judge Owen Panner issued a temporary restraining order against the U.S. Figure Skating Association, postponing that organization's scheduled March 10 disciplinary hearing into Harding's conduct and, thereby, allowing her to compete in next week's world championships in Japan. And so....

Stevie wonders: Has Tonya Harding given new meaning to the term "home court advantage"?

After all, in Portland these days, you can't even spell "legal proceedings" without this "gal." And it is because of these legal maneuvers that U.S. Olympic and figure skating officials alike have been unable to touch Harding with a telescopic 21-inch tactical baton. All of this court-jestering has taken place near her hometown of Portland. Would Harding have been looked on as favorably in, say, Boston? Of course, Harding has a home court advantage. But then....

Stevie wonders: Who in H-E-double-hockey-sticks doesn't have a home court to turn to these days?

Consider: In February a University of Maine hockey player was discovered to have been academically ineligible for most of this season. As a result, Maine was obliged to forfeit eight victories and three ties, and as further punishment, officials of hockey East blackballed the Black Bears from their conference's postseason tournament. However, a gavel-banger in Bangor last week granted the school an injunction that allowed Maine, the defending national champion, to play in the tournament after all. And so....

Stevie wonders: Is this what announcers mean when they say the home team is getting "good help from the bench"?

Perhaps. And much the same thing has happened in neighboring New Hampshire. Last week four University of New Hampshire hockey players were suspended by the school after their arrest on assault charges. But when the players threatened to seek an injunction, school officials turned as yellow as a legal pad, and the four were reinstated in time to compete alongside Maine in the Hockey East tournament.

Take 'em to court. Sue their shorts off. That's the American way. It isn't only in sports, of course. And yet judges do exercise remarkably little restraint in issuing temporary restraining orders on behalf of local athletic heroes. In 1989 a Cincinnati judge granted Pete Rose a TRO that briefly stalled baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti's investigation into Charlie Hustle's gambling activities.

A year earlier New Jersey Devil coach Jim Schoenfeld was suspended by the NHL for menacing referee Don Koharski after a playoff game. ("Have another doughnut," Schoenfeld memorably told the portly zebra.) But 15 minutes before the Devils' next game, a New Jersey judge issued a temporary restraining order allowing Schoenfeld to coach that evening. And so....

Stevie wonders: With all of these papers being served, is justice ever served by local magistrates?

Well, yes. In 1990 sprinter Butch Reynolds of Columbus, Ohio, was suspended for two years by the International Amateur Athletic Federation after he had supposedly tested positive for anabolic steroids. It was later demonstrated that the test had been bungled. In '92 a district court judge in Columbus granted Reynolds, a former Ohio State star, a temporary restraining order allowing him to compete in major pre-Olympic meets, and that very same judge subsequently awarded Reynolds $27.3 million in damages from the IAAF. And so....

Finally, Stevie wonders about Alan Eagleson. For 24 years Eagleson was simultaneously the head of the NHL Players Association and an agent representing scores of the league's players. Earlier this month a grand jury in Boston named Eagleson in a dizzying 32-count indictment charging him with racketeering, embezzlement and fraud. The indictment alleged, among other things, that Eagleson appropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars in union funds for his personal use (including loans to friends, golf trips and ballet tickets), intimidated a witness and persuaded another witness to destroy evidence against him.

But Eagleson is a prominent Toronto attorney and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, for god's sake. So he has indicated that he will contest extradition to the U.S. He would contest it, of course, in Canada, where complaints against him have long gone unheeded. Something tells us that he is counting on an enormous home court advantage in Toronto, but Stevie wonders if the Eagle isn't kidding himself. So, finally....

Stevie wonders: Will Eagleson's luck finally run out if he is ordered to face the bar many miles from home? After all, the U.S. is one nation. Under God. Indivisible. With liberty....

And justice for Al.


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