SAN DIEGO — Ron Fowler's bid to purchase the Sockers was put on hold until July 8 by a federal bankruptcy judge Wednesday.
But Fowler almost withdrew the offer entirely during a few tense moments late in the afternoon, as the hearing's length approached five hours and objections to the purchase began to pile up.
Fowler's attorney, Jack Studebaker, asked Judge Peter W. Bowie for a recess at 3:55 p.m., saying that Fowler was thinking of withdrawing his $825,000 offer to buy the team. (The bid had been raised from $700,000 earlier Wednesday.)
After Fowler; Studebaker; Charles Christopher, the Sockers' bankruptcy attorney, and Ron Cady, the Socker president, huddled for 15 minutes in the courtroom, Bowie returned and was told that Fowler's offer would stand as long as a judgment were made no later than July 8.
Major Indoor Soccer League Commissioner Bill Kentling has imposed a deadline of Friday for teams to post a $400,000 letter of credit for next season. He has said that any teams that were unable to do so would be dropped from the league.
But Christopher and Bowie expressed confidence that Kentling would not be able to terminate the franchise until a decision had been reached in court.
Christopher said he would first ask Kentling to give the Sockers until July 12 to post their letter of credit, allowing Fowler the weekend after the decision to come up with the money. He said that if the MISL would not agree to the extension, he would ask the court to order it during a short hearing at 1:45 p.m. today.
Bowie said it is likely that federal bankruptcy laws will not allow Kentling to terminate the Sockers until a decision is reached.
"Eventually, the MISL will say fish or cut bait," Bowie said. "But in the interim, it's perplexing to me why the league would want to snap up another franchise."
Kentling, reached at his home in New York Wednesday night, said he would wait to hear from the Sockers or the court before commenting.
Fowler had hoped to have this all decided in court Wednesday. But his attempt to purchase the Sockers ran into trouble from the beginning of the day.
Shortly after Christopher announced which assets Fowler intended to purchase--specifically, which player contracts Fowler wanted--Bowie expressed concern.
Christopher said team officials had decided that the contracts of 11 players would be purchased: Hormoz Tabrizi, Branko Segota, Paul Dougherty, George Fernandez, Ralf Wilhelms, Zoltan Toth, Zoran Karic, Keder, Brian Quinn, Paul Wright and Rene Ortiz. Bowie asked whether each had been informed of the Sockers' intentions.
Christopher said there hadn't been sufficient time to do so, as the decision was made only Tuesday. Bowie said due process required that each player be notified. He told Christopher that if the team sent out letters today, he could rule on Fowler's bid July 8.
"That was something that blind-sided everybody," Studebaker said. "Nobody was expecting that. But sometimes those things happen."
Objections to Fowler's bid by Golden Eagle Insurance, the largest unsecured creditor in the case, and the MISL Players Assn. further complicated manners.
James Munak, an attorney attempting to protect the $259,283 owed to Golden Eagle Insurance, questioned the amount of Fowler's offer. Munak said he would prefer for the court to wait until August or September to render its decision, giving other potential investors time to come forward.
Richard Muench, an attorney representing the MISL Players' Assn., argued that players with no-cut contracts--such as the Sockers' Jim Gorsek and Brian Schmetzer--couldn't have their contracts terminated because of the league's collective bargaining agreement.
At that point, just before 4 p.m., Fowler seemed exasperated. He and Cady quietly arose from opposite sides of the courtroom and joined each other in the hall. They talked for a couple of minutes--"about personal business," Cady would later say--before returning.
Moments later, Studebaker asked Bowie if the court could take a five-minute recess so he and Fowler could confer with Christopher.
"Mr. Fowler may want to withdraw his offer," Studebaker said.
Fowler later explained his reasoning.
"I was getting rather frustrated," he said. "We had come in here hoping that (Wednesday) would be the finite date that we could get this issue resolved. But all of a sudden, people were talking about August and September, and we simply can't wait that long."
Christopher said that when he walked over to confer with Fowler, Fowler told him, "I'm going to withdraw the offer."
Christopher apparently was able to convince him otherwise over the next 15 minutes.
"Had he gone through with that, the Sockers would be history," Christopher said. "Liquid (Investments Inc., which Fowler owns) has a whole host of business things and opportunities going on, and the Sockers (are) not exactly a revenue-producing part of it. He was not willing to have it be in limbo. I was able to convince him to keep it in limbo until (July 8)."
After Fowler decided to continue with his bid, Gorsek--who, along with Schmetzer stands to lose guaranteed contract money--stepped forward to tell the court he was behind the Sockers.
"I've had my contract guaranteed for the last 6 or 7 years, and now they're looking to terminate me (today)," Gorsek said. "But right now the most important thing is for the Sockers to survive, and if that means me forfeiting my contract, I'll do that. I'm sure I'll get picked up by some other team in November."
During the short hearing today, the Sockers also will ask for approval on loans from Liquid Investments Inc. of $85,000 to cover the second half of this month's payroll and $125,000 to pay coaches and players championship bonuses provided in their contracts. The $125,000 would officially be added to Fowler's original purchase offer, bringing the total to $825,000.
Scott Miller contributed to this story.