A judge who was slated to oversee a legal dispute between majority and minority owners of the Tampa Bay Rays has stepped down from the case over past ties to the team, including a stint as a minor league general manager.
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court Judge Thomas Ramsberger granted a motion from five minority ownership groups asking him to be disqualified. The motion had argued that Ramsberger’s connections to the franchise presented a conflict of interest, and therefore he could not be impartial.
In an order filed Aug. 26, Ramsberger wrote that he was legally prohibited from judging the merits of the request.
“Even when allegations are untrue, outrageous or scandalous, judges should not try to defend their honor or reputation when reviewing or ruling upon motions for disqualification,” Ramsberger wrote.
Minority owners brought the lawsuit in May, arguing that principal owner Stuart Sternberg was engaged in a “relentless scheme” to squeeze limited partners out of their ownership stakes and profits, and that he had secretly negotiated to move Rays games to Montreal as far back as 2014.
Among their arguments for Ramsberger’s dismissal: The judge served in executive roles with the team’s former Double-A franchise, the Orlando Rays; he performed legal work for the team and former owner Vince Naimoli while working in private practice in St. Petersburg; he had spoken on the team’s behalf at sports conferences; and he had opined on the viability of Major League Baseball lawsuits while teaching a class at the Stetson University College of Law.
Attorneys for Sternberg, who have called the suit baseless, replied in court that the motion to remove Ramsberger was full of “speculative factual allegations” involving non-parties to the suit, including Namoli and the Orlando Rays.
A spokesperson for the circuit court said Ramsberger would have no comment on the order.