Sunday 26 March 2017

Courtroom audience hoping Dallas episode just bad dream

Ian Herbert

It will hardly be a titanic battle of Southfork proportions, but the final bout of the infernal domestic drama known as Liverpool FC will be staged in a Dallas courthouse.

The British QCs, who were upstaged late on Wednesday by a Dallas judge's decision to grant Tom Hicks and George Gillett a temporary restraining order forbidding the sale of the club, wreaked a revenge of sorts yesterday.

The club's formidable barrister, Anthony Grabiner, described Dallas as that "world-famous jurisdiction" to much laughter when the judge and all the legal teams -- with Hicks' own lawyers conspicuous by their absence -- were hauled back to the British High Court yesterday, in an attempt to render Judge Jim Jordan's Texas ruling invalid.

But there was no getting away from the spoke that Hicks put in the wheels of progress which finally seemed to be moving when the billionaire businessman John W Henry swept up for a Liverpool board meeting on Wednesday evening, thinking he was about to witness his coronation as the new proprietor at Anfield.

Judge Jordan is not expected by lawyers in Texas to stand defiant in the face of the High Court's verdict that his restraining order should be immediately overturned.

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Despite the abuse that has defaced his Facebook page since he signed off the order, he is a trial judge of 30 years' standing; a Democrat who holds great store by the international legal principle of comity -- which states that a verdict granted under one legal jurisdiction must not be undermined in another.

But another hearing seems to be necessary for Judge Jordan to strike out the initial order. A few more hours of torture loom for Liverpool and for Henry's New England Sports Ventures (NESV), whose £300m deal remains unsigned.

Judge Jordan may be wondering what he let himself in for when Hicks and Gillett rolled up at his courthouse to file their rushed request for a restraining order at noon, Dallas time, on Wednesday -- seven hours after the High Court had effectively freed Liverpool's directors to sell up.

It took two and half hours for him to pore over and consider their case which, when typed up in its final format, was littered with spelling mistakes. Gillett appears as Gillette.

The judge's handwritten notes on the final restraining order illustrates his unease at being unable to hear Liverpool's side of the story before granting it.

The word "solely" is scribbled by him on the document 16 times, indicating that the bitter complaints the pair make against the club are "based solely" on their own allegations. The one-eyed nature of the 29-page document is breathtaking.

This was a document Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton received a mere five minutes before the board meeting convened to approve Liverpool's sale to NESV.

By daybreak yesterday, Broughton and his advisers were still wondering whether Dallas really could upstage the Royal Courts of Justice. It was also suggested that Hicks had secretly sold his shares to Mill Financial, which was thus in a position to pay off the club's £237m debts to Royal Bank of Scotland -- due today -- and gazump NESV.

The gloom deepened. Even the name of Kenny Huang, the Chinese businessman whose putative move for Liverpool was one of the more colourful fleeting chapters in this whole astonishing saga, popped up in the 'Liverpool Echo', that paper's unproven suggestion being that Huang was the money-man behind a company linked to Mill.

But Hicks' spokesman popped up within hours to put that whole story to bed. Hicks had not sold to anyone, he said, and the course was set for yesterday's hearing.

In court, Hicks's Texan double-hold gave Grabiner the opportunity to deliver his most bombastic performance of a week in which Liverpool FC have been his main source of income.

He declared it to be "preposterous" that Hicks and Gillett had gone to a legal jurisdiction in another country because they were not happy with Mr Justice Floyd's decision in the High Court on Wednesday to order the reinstatement of the Liverpool board.

"They want a second bite of the cherry and if it wasn't so serious it would be a joke, grotesque parody, preposterous, unfair. They are just incorrigible."

The judge agreed, so now it is back to Texas. A written form of yesterday's High Court judgment -- compelling Hicks and Gillett to get that Dallas restraining order lifted by 4.0 this afternoon or be in contempt of court -- was physically delivered to his lawyers in London last night.

Local lawyers expect another punishing session for the two outgoing Liverpool owners.

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"Once you've gone cap in hand for a restraining order you have to account for yourselves," said Thomas Kruse of US-based Baker & Hostetler legal firm. "The judge is likely to expect them to answer for themselves.

"A ruling from the High Court is one that the judge here would respect. If it sends a signal to say that the restraining order is inappropriate, he would abide by that. We feel the judge acted blindly, without full facts, in the first place."

The circus will now move to a new location where a significant episode in the soap opera will unfold. Does another cliff-hanger await us? No one dare predict anything where Liverpool are concerned. (© Independent News Service)

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