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Harding awaits decision today

Tonya Harding will learn today whether she will be granted a temporary restraining order that would delay her disciplinary hearing before the U.S. Figure Skating Association.

As Harding listened in the courtroom, her lawyers tried to convince a federal judge Tuesday that it would be unfair for figure skating officials to proceed with the hearing, which is set to begin Thursday.

Attorneys for the USFSA argued that the hearing _ which could result in Harding being thrown out of the sport _ would be fair and conforms with its bylaws.

U.S. District Judge Owen Panner said he would decide today whether to grant the temporary restraining order, giving Harding more time to prepare her defense.

After listening to arguments for nearly two hours, Panner recessed the hearing until 12:30 p.m. today. He said he would try to give an oral decision at that time "because of the time constraints we have."

Harding wants to compete in the world championships, which begin March 22 in Chiba, Japan. The association wants to take any disciplinary action against her before that competition. If she loses her association membership, she would be banned from the event.

A five-member USFSA panel is to determine whether to throw her out of the sport for her role in the Jan. 6 attack on Nancy Kerrigan. The panel has decided reasonable grounds exist to believe Harding participated in the Kerrigan plot or knew of it and did not come forward with that information.

At the beginning of the hearing, Panner said he had decided after reading written arguments that the ongoing criminal investigation into the Kerrigan attack cannot be a basis for delaying the USFSA proceedings.

However, he said the criminal investigation could be a factor in Harding's arguments that she hasn't had adequate time to prepare a proper defense.

Although she was not required to be there, Harding entered the courtroom shortly before the hearing began, wearing a splint on the left wrist sprained when she was mugged in a park last week.

Before the hearing began, she waved at a group of eighth-graders who were in the courtroom on a field trip. Harding left the hearing without commenting.

Attorneys for the USFSA noted that the National Sports Act of 1978 was intended to keep such matters out of the courts. Panner said he knew that.

"I don't want to interfere . . . but there are certain cases when the situation is so unfair that the court should interfere," he said.