MLB commissioner Rob Manfred recently led a meeting that highlights his league’s stakes in the Baltimore Orioles family litigation and how MLB could become directly involved. As reported by The Baltimore Sun, Manfred, along with deputy commissioner and chief legal officer Dan Halem, convened with team CEO John Angelos and his mother, Georgia Angelos, on June 15 in a New York hotel after an MLB owners’ meeting, to discuss a lawsuit brought against them on June 9 by John’s brother, attorney Louis “Lou” Angelos.
Angelos v. Angelos & Angelos could reshape control of the Orioles, which are owned by Peter Angelos, who is married to Georgia and the father of John and Lou. The 93-year-old billionaire is the only family member who isn’t suing, or being sued, by kin.
Depending on the trajectory of the Angelos litigation, MLB could become ensnared in it. Two years ago, MLB owners formally recognized John Angelos as the club’s top official; John’s ascension to the team’s CEO slot is part of Lou Angelos’ legal complaint. If Lou can advance an argument that his brother wrongfully anointed himself the boss, MLB taking steps to legitimize John might transform MLB officials into relevant witnesses. Lou could also demand MLB explain the details of Manfred’s recent meeting with his mom and brother.
As Lou Angelos tells it in the legal filings, John Angelos has unlawfully tried to exclude him from a revocable trust established by their father, who is impaired by health problems. The trust names three co-trustees—the two sons and Georgia Angelos—but Lou says John has fraudulently interfered with his rights, including by appointing himself the team’s CEO.
Lou maintains John has gone beyond merely hoodwinking him. Seemingly worse, he’s accused of duping their 80-year-old mother into ceding club control, including by “prey[ing] upon [her] fear of abandonment” and “exploding into tantrums and threatening to leave and move out of state if he did not get his way.” The lawsuit further suggests John might try to move the Orioles to Tennessee, where he and his wife own a home and where no MLB club currently resides. Under the league’s constitution, three-fourths of all teams must approve a relocation or sale.
Attorneys for John Angelos will soon answer the complaint and seek its dismissal. For now, he has issued a statement promising “the Orioles will remain in Baltimore.”
League commissioners try to keep ownership disputes out of court, where sensitive records can become public. Confidential emails, owners’ financial records—which are of particular interest to players’ unions—and sworn testimony on divisive topics are all able to be revealed. Commissioners also try to insulate their decisions from judges and juries, who are charged with resolving narrow legal disputes rather than weighing league-wide consequences.
To that end, commissioners sometimes invoke league constitutions, which specify the fiduciary relationship between a league, its commissioner, the teams and the owners. The commissioner ordinarily holds exclusive jurisdiction to arbitrate any dispute that either involves two or more holders of ownership in a team or concerns a controversy the commissioner deems detrimental to their league’s best interests.
Leagues can attempt to wrest control of ownership lawsuits by filing motions to intervene. A judge will typically authorize a so-called “intervenor” so long as it has a legitimate stake in the lawsuit’s outcome. Unlike other nonparties, an intervenor can file briefs and participate in court hearings.
Over the last two years, the NFL and NHL have successfully intervened in ownership lawsuits. Two years ago, the NFL intervened in a federal litigation involving Daniel Snyder and limited partners of the Washington Commanders. The NFL convinced a judge to dismiss the case to arbitration overseen by commissioner Roger Goodell. In recent months, the NHL has intervened in federal and state litigations involving the Fenway Sports Group, Mario Lemieux, Ron Burkle and limited partners of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Due to successful advocacy by NHL attorneys, the state case is headed for review by commissioner Gary Bettman.
Like other leagues, MLB’s constitution contains language that can compel arbitration. Article VI states that “disputes and controversies related in any way” to MLB, including those concerning owners and executives, “shall be submitted to the Commissioner, as arbitrator, who, after hearing, shall have the sole and exclusive right to decide such disputes and controversies and whose decision shall be final and unappealable.”
This clause goes on to state that teams shouldn’t “engage in any form of litigation between or among themselves or with any MLB entity” as doing so would undermine the “best interest of Baseball.” Further, teams, owners and executives accept that the commissioner’s decisions as “final” and “unappealable” and they “waive” any potential opportunities to sue. Meanwhile, Article II accords broad authority to the commissioner to punish teams and owners for conduct deemed not in the “best interests” of baseball.
MLB hasn’t moved to intervene in the Angelos litigation. Unlike the lawsuits concerning the Commanders and Penguins, the Orioles’ lawsuit is a dispute between members of the same family. MLB might prefer the case resolved on its own, even if Lou Angelos is seeking a court order that would enjoin his brother from taking actions on behalf of the Orioles. The order would bar John Angelos “from conducting negotiations for the sale of the Baltimore Orioles or of [Orioles TV partner] Mid-Atlantic Sports Network or both.” As a point of comparison, the NFL has not (yet) moved to intervene in the lawsuit involving Spanos children and control of a trust that partially owns the Los Angeles Chargers.
As the Angelos suit proceeds, MLB may find itself part of the case, with or without consent.