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Harding wants hearing blocked

Tonya Harding went to court Monday to try to prevent the U.S. Figure Skating Association from proceeding with a disciplinary hearing Thursday that could banish her from the sport.

Harding's lawyers sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction blocking the hearing in Colorado Springs, Colo.

"We've asked the judge to take a look at whether or not it's fair to her to be required to respond to the figure skating charges, given the time we've been allowed and the circumstances," Harding attorney Bob Weaver said.

U.S. District Judge Owen Panner scheduled a hearing on the request for this afternoon.

Harding's lawyers contend she has not had time to prepare a proper defense and would prejudice her position in the criminal investigation into the Nancy Kerrigan attack if she participated in the hearing.

Unless the hearing is stopped, they say, "she will undoubtedly be found "guilty' of violating some USFSA rule and deprived of her membership registration. That will effectively end her competitive figure skating career."

They want Panner to prevent the association from taking any action that would keep Harding from participating in the World Figure Skating Championships, which begin March 22 in Chiba, Japan. They also want the hearing put off until she has had adequate time to prepare her defense and until the investigation and potential prosecution of Harding is completed.

A five-member USFSA panel found Feb. 5 there was reasonable cause to believe Harding was involved with or knew of the plot to assault Kerrigan. Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, pleaded guilty to racketeering for his part in the scheme. He says Harding was in on the plot and gave the final go-ahead. Kerrigan was struck above the right knee with a metal police baton in Detroit Jan. 6 as she prepared for the U.S. championships. With Kerrigan knocked out of the competition, Harding won the title.

The USFSA indicated it would not compromise in an out-of-court settlement, as the U.S. Olympic Committee did after Harding sued to assure a chance to compete in the Winter Games, where she placed eighth. Kerrigan won the silver medal.

The lawsuit initially was filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court, but was quickly moved to federal court under a motion filed by the figure skating association saying citizens of two states, Colorado and Oregon, were involved.

In addition to the injunction and temporary restraining order, the lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory damages.

The USFSA's "unilateral, premature setting of the hearing date, and its insistence that plaintiff be prepared to defend herself in Colorado Springs on March 10, 1994, is unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious," the 10-page complaint said.

Harding's lawyers say that while the USFSA gave her 33 days to prepare her defense, she was unable to make any preparations on 20 of them because of the Olympics and related court cases.

A grand jury is investigating Harding's role in the plot and is to deliver its final report March 21. Harding worked out briefly at a mall rink in suburban Portland on Monday, her first skate since she reported being mugged in a park near her Beaverton apartment Thursday night.

Beaverton police spokesman Mark Hyde said there was no significant progress in the investigation of the assault.