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Angry federal judge won’t referee Michael Jordan lawsuit

Michael Jordan | AP file

Michael Jordan | AP file

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Updated: July 19, 2014 6:21AM

An angry federal judge has stormed off and refused to play ball with Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan after Jordan’s attorneys accused him of bias.

Veteran U.S. District Judge Milton Shadur, 89, on Tuesday withdrew from overseeing Jordan’s long-running lawsuit against defunct supermarket chain Dominick’s, saying he had been the victim of a “groundless and unwarranted personal attack” on his integrity.

Jordan sued Dominick’s in 2010 after it used his photo in a one-page advertisement in Sports Illustrated magazine without his permission.

The ad, which celebrated Jordan’s induction into Basketball’s Hall of Fame, said Jordan was “a cut above” and included a $2-off coupon for steak.

But Jordan’s lawyers have long bristled at Shadur’s handling of the case, including the judge’s demand that Jordan show up in person last year in court because the case was dragging on, and his description of Jordan as a greedy “hog” for seeking $2.5 million in damages.

The star’s attorney, Frederick Sperling, last week filed a motion asking Shadur to recuse himself from the case, alleging Shadur could not be fair because he had “demeaned and disparaged Mr. Jordan, his claims and his counsel.”

Shadur had improperly attempted to force Jordan’s endorsement partners — which include Nike, Gatorade and Hanes — to strong-arm Jordan into accepting a smaller settlement, the motion alleged.

Responding Tuesday in a seven-page written ruling, Shadur denied that, accusing Jordan of “judge-shopping” and saying Sperling “may be short of scruples” and had chosen to “distort the truth” in an “appalling” manner.

Calling Sperling’s allegations a “big lie,” he refused to recuse himself, but said he would withdraw on his own terms because he had now lost “any respect that this court had held for Jordan’s counsel” and was worried that “subliminal forces” could make him unfair to Jordan in the future.

He noted that the “unfortunate result” was that Sperling is therefore getting just what he wanted but predicted that whoever takes over the case “may well share this court’s view of the damages issue.”

Sperling on Tuesday declined to address Shadur’s criticisms directly, but said Shadur “has had a long and distinguished career,” adding, “we respect his decision to withdraw from the case.”


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