A group of minority owners suing Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg over their stake in and profits from the team has asked for a new judge in the case, arguing the current judge was a former minor league general manager for the team and may not be unbiased.
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Thomas Ramsberger once served as the general manager of the team’s Double-A affiliate Orlando Rays and had other legal ties to former owner and “good friend” Vince Naimoli, according to a motion filed Wednesday in Pinellas County.
The filing argues that Ramsberger “may have drafted or consulted with the drafters of many of the documents that are relevant” to the case, and were signed by Naimoli. The filing also notes that Ramsberger once spoke on the team’s behalf at a sports conference in Tallahassee, and that while teaching a course on sports business at Stetson University College of Law, he stated that Major League Baseball lawsuits typically don’t go very far because they’re often settled or dismissed before trial.
The filing asks Ramsberger to recuse himself or be removed, and for the case to be reassigned to another civil court judge.
The suit was filed in May by five limited partners — Robert Kleinert, Gary Markel, Stephen M. Waters and a trust in his name, and the MacDougald Family Limited Partnership — who together own about 9.6 percent of the team. They allege that Sternberg, the team’s majority owner, has led a “relentless scheme” to squeeze out other owners and deprive them of profits, and has been secretly negotiating to move the team to Montreal since 2014.
Attorneys for the minority owners declined to comment on the motion. Through a court spokesperson, Ramsberger declined to comment. A Rays spokesperson did not have a comment Thursday morning.
Thomas Ramsberger was hired as the Rays’ director of Orlando business development in 1996 after providing the team with outside legal counsel. After becoming general manager, he got his own baseball card.
“This is a lot more fun than practicing law,” he told the Orlando Business Journal in 1996.
Ramsberger’s family has several ties to the sports world. His brother, Tim, is a member of the Florida Sports Hall of Fame and a former president of the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg who also worked on the 1994 World Cup in Orlando and 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. And after retiring from a long career as a teacher, their father Gerry was the Rays’ popular press box attendant.
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Ramsberger’s other brother, Peter, was a longtime Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court judge who retired in December after 30 years on the bench.
As a judge in 2014, Thomas Ramsberger administered the oath of office to newly elected St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, who this year has been engaged with a back-and-forth with the Rays over the team’s contract with the city and plans to redevelop Tropicana Field.
An initial hearing in the lawsuit is scheduled for November.