NEW YORK (Reuters) - Major League Baseball must produce documents relating to a dispute over television rights fees involving the Baltimore Orioles and the Washington Nationals before a trial next year, a judge ruled on Monday.
The regional baseball rivals have been at odds over the amount the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, also known as MASN, should pay the Nationals to broadcast their games. The Orioles control MASN, which broadcasts in the U.S. capital and seven surrounding states. The Nationals own a minority stake.
MASN and the teams had agreed to take their dispute to a Major League Baseball committee, which ruled in June the network should pay the Nationals about $60 million a year, rather than the $40 million that had been agreed on earlier.
MASN is now suing MLB in New York State Supreme Court, arguing in part that the committee was not impartial, and that Rob Manfred, who is due to be promoted to baseball commissioner in the new year, exerted undue influence over the process in favor of the Nationals. MLB denies that, saying Manfred and others only provided administrative support for the committee.
"This was the conciliatory role played by the commissioner with everyone's knowledge," John Buckley, Jr., a lawyer for MLB, told the court, describing MASN's request for further discovery as a "fishing expedition."
On Monday, Judge Lawrence Marks partially granted a request by MASN's lawyers at a pre-trial hearing that he order MLB to produce details from documents that may shed light on who attended various meetings about the dispute and some details about when drafts and other documents were emailed, faxed or posted.
The judge denied MASN's broader request that MLB produce the actual draft documents themselves as well as documents about committee meetings that were not connected to the Nationals dispute.
Another pre-trial conference is set for Jan. 8, and the trial is expected to begin in March 2015. The judge has ordered a temporary injunction on the payments terms decided by the committee.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Peter Cooney)