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Legal Aid Society
Steve Rushin
March 21, 1994
The best friend of an athlete in Dutch is often the local magistrate
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March 21, 1994

Legal Aid Society

The best friend of an athlete in Dutch is often the local magistrate

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Welcome to "Stevie Wonders," a column that deals exclusively with questions of sports and jurisprudence. Stevie happens to be yours truly, and that rhymes with Gillooly, and that stands for....

Tonya Harding. Last week in Oregon a Portland judge granted the Portland figure skater her latest legal request. Judge Owen Panner issued a temporary restraining order against the U.S. Figure Skating Association, postponing that organization's scheduled March 10 disciplinary hearing into Harding's conduct and, thereby, allowing her to compete in next week's world championships in Japan. And so....

Stevie wonders: Has Tonya Harding given new meaning to the term "home court advantage"?

After all, in Portland these days, you can't even spell "legal proceedings" without this "gal." And it is because of these legal maneuvers that U.S. Olympic and figure skating officials alike have been unable to touch Harding with a telescopic 21-inch tactical baton. All of this court-jestering has taken place near her hometown of Portland. Would Harding have been looked on as favorably in, say, Boston? Of course, Harding has a home court advantage. But then....

Stevie wonders: Who in H-E-double-hockey-sticks doesn't have a home court to turn to these days?

Consider: In February a University of Maine hockey player was discovered to have been academically ineligible for most of this season. As a result, Maine was obliged to forfeit eight victories and three ties, and as further punishment, officials of hockey East blackballed the Black Bears from their conference's postseason tournament. However, a gavel-banger in Bangor last week granted the school an injunction that allowed Maine, the defending national champion, to play in the tournament after all. And so....

Stevie wonders: Is this what announcers mean when they say the home team is getting "good help from the bench"?

Perhaps. And much the same thing has happened in neighboring New Hampshire. Last week four University of New Hampshire hockey players were suspended by the school after their arrest on assault charges. But when the players threatened to seek an injunction, school officials turned as yellow as a legal pad, and the four were reinstated in time to compete alongside Maine in the Hockey East tournament.

Take 'em to court. Sue their shorts off. That's the American way. It isn't only in sports, of course. And yet judges do exercise remarkably little restraint in issuing temporary restraining orders on behalf of local athletic heroes. In 1989 a Cincinnati judge granted Pete Rose a TRO that briefly stalled baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti's investigation into Charlie Hustle's gambling activities.

A year earlier New Jersey Devil coach Jim Schoenfeld was suspended by the NHL for menacing referee Don Koharski after a playoff game. ("Have another doughnut," Schoenfeld memorably told the portly zebra.) But 15 minutes before the Devils' next game, a New Jersey judge issued a temporary restraining order allowing Schoenfeld to coach that evening. And so....

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