Mets' owners, trustee take shots in court

Irving Picard, Securities Investor Protection Act Trustee, speaks Irving Picard, Securities Investor Protection Act Trustee, speaks to reporters during a news conference in New York. (Dec. 17, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

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While the New York Mets' owners and the trustee in the Bernard Madoff bankruptcy have agreed to have the lawsuit mediated by former Gov. Mario Cuomo, it hasn't stopped the two sides from taking shots at each other in court.

Bankruptcy trustee Irving Picard complains the team's owners have tried to pressure "third parties" to disclose evidence at the heart of a lawsuit jeopardizing the team's ownership, according to court papers.

Through his counsel, trustee Irving Picard wrote attorneys for the Wilpon family and partners accusing them of making an "unorthodox" end-run around normal discovery processes. Picard said the lawyers were trying to get a premature look at some 700,000 documents gathered in the trustee's investigation that led to the lawsuit.

The Wilpons filed papers in Manhattan bankruptcy court seeking to force Picard to reveal all of the information he collected for the complaint. The Picard lawsuit accused the family and its business associates of taking more than $300 million in profits from Madoff's Ponzi scheme. He is seeking up to $1 billion.

"As a matter of simple fairness, the (Wilpons) are entitled to immediate access to this information in order to defend themselves against this unfounded complaint," Wilpon attorney Karen E. Wagner said in court papers.

Picard is expected to submit a response by Friday. But in a letter to Wagner dated Feb. 11, the day after Cuomo was named mediator, Picard's counsel David Sheehan said the Wilpons were seeking "special treatment" to which they have no right.

"We also understand that you are currently pressuring third parties to provide you with premature discovery concerning the trustee's allegations against your client," Sheehan told Wagner in the letter.

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Sheehan didn't reveal names, but court records suggest that Merrill Lynch and Sterling Stamos Partners, an investment firm, may have been approached.

A spokesman for Merrill declined to comment and officials for Sterling Stamos were unavailable. A spokesman for the Wilpon's law firm Davis Polk & Wardell LLP also declined to comment.

As for the mediation effort, sources who didn't want to be named said no face-to-face sessions have occurred.

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