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Apparently, the desire on the part of Major League Baseball to sell the Washington Nationals to a group with strong local ties did not extend to the future owner’s lawyers. Baseball Commissioner Allan “Bud” Selig announced May 3 that the Nationals franchise had been awarded to a group led by Washington-area developer Theodore Lerner. But the group was represented by New York-based lawyer Joseph Leccese, a partner at Proskauer Rose. Leccese says he expects the sale, which still needs to be approved by the other Major League owners at their next meeting on May 17-18, to close in mid- to late June. He says he met the Lerner family about eight years ago, when he represented them in their unsuccessful bid to buy the Washington Redskins. The firm’s sports law practice group in New York mainly handled that transaction, but Christopher Wolf, a partner in Proskauer’s D.C. office, also worked on the deal, says Leccese, who will continue to represent the team. (The agreement is yet another example of D.C. deal makers looking north to New York for transactional expertise.) The team, which will be majority-owned by Lerner, his son, and sons-in-law, will also include two prominent Washington lobbyists in its ownership group: former U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, now a partner at Patton Boggs, and Jarvis Stewart, chairman of Stewart Partners. The Lerners attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the team’s new ballpark the day after the announcement. Haggling between Major League Baseball and the D.C. Council over the stadium deal delayed the sale of the team. Richard Weiss, managing partner of Foley & Lardner’s Washington office, who served as counsel to Major League Baseball’s relocation committee, was one of the principal draftsmen of the stadium agreements. He says the league wanted to finish the negotiations on the ballpark before the team was sold, because baseball believed it could probably do a better job negotiating terms than some of the groups bidding to buy the team, which did not have a lot of baseball-related experience. Lerner’s expertise lies in development, and Leccese says he expects the owner to be active in designing and constructing the stadium.
Alexia Garamfalvi can be contacted at [email protected].

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