Court rules against owners in Liverpool fight

A British judge granted an injunction Thursday against the Liverpool owners that could clear the way for the club's sale to the parent company of the Boston Red Sox.

Liverpool's board of directors won the latest court battle in the drawn-out attempt to sell the club to the owners of the Boston Red Sox on Thursday, leaving the current American owners with slim hopes of using the Texas legal system to block the deal.

On a second successive day of legal wrangling on both sides of the Atlantic, a British High Court judge granted an injunction against co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr., ordering them to withdraw their legal action in a Dallas district court.

The order effectively nullified a temporary restraining order Hicks and Gillett had obtained on Wednesday to block the 300 million pound ($480.7 million Cdn) sale of the club to New England Sports Ventures, which is headed by financier John Henry.

"We are nearly there," Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton said. "We are still in court in Texas. We still have to do that. We still have to take away the restraining order ... Mr. Henry is [still] very committed."

Hicks and Gillett -- who stand to lose more than 140 million pounds ($225 million Cdn) if the sale goes through -- have described the attempted sale as an "epic swindle" that undervalues English football's most successful club.

Order to withdraw

Judge Christopher Floyd ordered them to withdraw their action by 4 p.m. London time Friday or be held in contempt of court.

But hours later, Texas District Judge Jim Jordan said NESV's motion to lift the temporary restraining order he issued on Wednesday blocking the sale would not be heard until 7 a.m. on Friday in Dallas -- 1 p.m. London time.

At the Dallas hearing on Thursday, NESV lawyers argued Liverpool was headed for default if Jordan didn't rule on Friday, but couldn't provide documentation of that when Jordan asked. Hicks lawyer Geoffrey Harper asked for two days to review the NESV motion.

"If you grant this relief, the injunction is moot," Harper said. "They will have closed [the sale]."

Jordan resisted the urging of NESV attorneys to rule immediately on their request to lift the restraining order and set a hearing for early Friday to help the sale process in England.

"I want this issue to be resolved for the parties," Jordan said.

NESV lawyer David Chivers said the sale would go through once the Texas order was withdrawn -- and the Boston group already considers itself to be in charge.

Strong statement

"We are the owners [of Liverpool]," Chivers told the High Court. "The owners from beyond the grave are seeking to exercise with their dead hand a continuing grip on this company."

Floyd harshly criticized the owners for turning to an American court after losing a previous case at the High Court on Wednesday, calling it "unconscionable conduct on the part of Mr. Hicks and Mr. Gillett."

"This case has no real connection to Texas," Floyd said.   

Attorneys for Hicks denied on Thursday they went to the Texas court only after the London court ruled against them.

But Hicks and Gillett were accused by the English judge of initially concealing the High Court action from the Texas judge.

"It's a deliberate omission not to mention the fact," Floyd said.

"[The owners] are anxious to secure a second bite of the cherry in that famous jurisdiction, the Dallas county court," added Richard Snowden, a lawyer representing Royal Bank of Scotland, which holds the bulk of the club's debts.

"We say the proceedings brought in Dallas are abusive, vexatious and oppressive. Having lost in front of your lordship, they have simply gone to another jurisdiction."

Contempt accusation

While the London court hearing was being held, lawyers for Hicks and Gillett asked the Texas court to hold the three Liverpool board members in contempt for trying to push through the sale.

"This is the most outrageous abuse of process," Snowden said. "The proceedings in Texas are plainly inappropriate. This dispute concerns an English football club and their English companies.

"It has nothing to do with Texas other than the fact that Messrs. Hicks and Gillett may reside there."