Entertainment & Sports Law

Lawyer can see Billy Joel but not Knicks at Madison Square Garden as result of judge's ruling

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Updated: The Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corp. can ban a lawyer from buying tickets to New York Knicks or New York Rangers games following his lawsuit against the venue. But it has to honor any valid ticket that he presents for concerts at that location or for any shows at related venues, a New York judge has ruled.

Judge Lyle E. Frank of New York ruled Monday in a suit filed by name partner Larry Hutcher of Davidoff Hutcher & Citron. Hutcher says his longtime season tickets to New York Knicks games were revoked because of his previous suit against Madison Square Garden on behalf of ticket resellers.

Frank partly ruled for Hutcher and nearly 60 lawyers from his firm in a Nov. 14 opinion. Like Hutcher, the lawyers had been banned from Madison Square Garden and related venues.

Frank said New York law requires venues to allow entry to nonsporting events to anyone age 21 or older who is behaving appropriately. As a result, the suit plaintiffs can’t be denied entry to shows when they present a valid ticket after doors open to Radio City Music Hall, the Beacon Theater, the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden and Madison Square Garden itself—but only for concerts at that location.

Frank said Madison Square Garden can bar the plaintiffs from sporting events because they are not covered by the civil rights law in question.

Madison Square Garden can also refuse to sell tickets to the plaintiffs, Frank said, and it can revoke tickets to the plaintiffs up until the time that they present the tickets for entry at the covered events and locations.

Hutcher praised the ruling in an interview with the ABA Journal.

“This is the first time that there’s been any limitation imposed on Madison Square Garden in terms of who they are required to admit,” Hutcher says. “They have always taken the position that this is our arena, these are our venues, and we can deny access to anyone at any time.”

Hutcher says the ruling is a significant victory and noted that at least 75% of event tickets are acquired through third-party sources.

Hutcher says he is disappointed by Frank’s decision to allow Madison Square Garden to ban him and other lawyers at his firm from sporting events, however. In Hutcher’s view, the judge wrongly concluded that all sporting events are exempted from the civil rights law because of its carveout for race tracks and baseball stadiums.

He also disagrees with the judge’s conclusion that Madison Square Garden refused to renew his season tickets, rather than revoking them. The tickets had already been paid for in full and were held in an electronic bank. That’s a “serious issue” that he will make clear in a motion to reargue or in an appeal, he says.

Hutcher says he was very disappointed at first when he lost his season tickets. But the Knicks are playing so bad that, “I’m thinking it’s money well saved,” he says.

Hutcher is planning to buy tickets to a Billy Joel concert Nov. 23 at Madison Square Garden as a result of the ruling. He isn’t a fan, but he hopes to find a ticket in which he can “proudly sit in the first row.” It will probably be expensive, but it will be “worth every penny,” he says.

In a statement to the Journal, a spokesperson for Madison Square Garden said there will be an appeal.

“The court again affirmed our absolute right to both deny the sale of tickets to Mr. Hutcher and other attorneys engaged in active litigation against the company and to revoke any tickets that they obtain,” according to the statement.

“It is not unreasonable that while in active litigation, we would want to preserve our right to protect ourselves against improper disclosure and discovery,” the statement reads. “That is why we instituted this policy, and we have repeatedly made clear that once litigation is resolved, impacted attorneys will be allowed back in our venues. We will vigorously defend this policy and our right to enforce it, including immediately appealing what the judge himself called a ‘small carveout.’”

On Tuesday, a spokesperson said Madison Square Garden has sent letters to all lawyers with suits against the venue asserting that any tickets that they obtain—including those purchased from third-party sellers—are revoked and invalid.

“Nothing has changed,” Madison Square Garden said in another statement to the Journal. “Lawyers who are engaged in active litigation against MSG are still barred from all events and all venues. The judge’s ruling yesterday did not change that.”

Also on Tuesday, a New York appeals court refused Hutcher’s request to temporarily pause the judge’s order.

Updated Nov. 15 at 3:59 p.m. to include the second statement from the Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corp., the information on the letters that were sent to lawyers and the New York appeals court’s refusal of Larry Hutcher’s request to temporarily pause the judge’s order.

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