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Liverpool sale to Red Sox winds through courts

The bitter fight over control of the Liverpool soccer team was dragged through dueling court hearings Thursday on opposite sides of the Atlantic, with a British judge ruling to let the sale proceed to the owners of the Boston Red Sox.

But that didn't clean up what's quickly becoming a legal quagmire.

In Dallas, Texas, a state judge scheduled an extraordinary early-morning hearing on Friday that may either clear the path for the sale or complicate things even more.

At the heart of the matter, the argument is over the sale price of Liverpool, one of the most successful clubs in the history of English soccer.

Three of five Liverpool board members have voted to allow New England Sports Ventures, led by Red Sox owner John Henry, to buy the team for 300 million pounds ($476 million). But the other two board members, current owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr., claim the club is worth double that, possibly more.

On Wednesday, a state court judge in Texas issued a temporary restraining order blocking the sale to NESV, though whether he has the authority to do so is in dispute.

The action continued Thursday, as Texas District Judge Jim Jordan scheduled a hearing for 7 a.m. CDT (8 a.m. EDT and 1 p.m. in London) on Friday to hear a motion from the Red Sox group aimed at lifting the temporary restraining order.

Meanwhile, earlier in London, High Court Judge Christopher Floyd handed Hicks and Gillett a defeat, ordering them to drop their complaint in Texas by 4 p.m. London time Friday (11 a.m. EDT) or be held in contempt of court in Britain.

"We are nearly there," Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton said. "We still have to take away the restraining order ... Mr. Henry is (still) very committed."

At a hearing in Dallas, NESV lawyers argued Liverpool was headed for default on its debt — and a possible nine-point penalty in the Premier League standings — if Jordan didn't decide by 10:01 a.m. London time Friday (5:01 a.m. EDT). Jordan resisted the urging of NESV attorneys to rule immediately on their request to lift the TRO.

"I want this issue to be resolved for the parties," Jordan said.

In London, NESV lawyer David Chivers said the sale would go through once the Texas case is withdrawn.

"We are the owners (of Liverpool)," Chivers told the High Court. "The owners from beyond the grave are seeking to exercise with their dead hand a continuing grip on this company."

The British judge said the legal action in Texas amounted to "unconscionable conduct on the part of Mr. Hicks and Mr. Gillett."

"This case has no real connection to Texas," Floyd said.

Richard Snowden, a lawyer for the Royal Bank of Scotland — which controls Liverpool's debts and has been trying to get the sale approved — told the High Court that the Texas ruling was "inappropriate" and should have no bearing.

"This dispute concerns an English football club and their English companies. It has nothing to do with Texas other than the fact that Messrs. Hicks and Gillett may reside there."

Hicks and Gillett were not represented at the hearing.

"They are anxious to secure a second bite of the cherry in that famous jurisdiction, the Dallas County court," Snowden said. "We say the proceedings brought in Dallas are abusive, vexatious and oppressive. Having lost in front of your lordship, they have simply gone to another jurisdiction."

Hicks and Gillett's companies filed a motion in Dallas asking that RBS, NESV and Liverpool's independent board members be held in contempt in the U.S.

"Further showing their unlawful intentions and brazen disregard for their obligations, defendants have undisputedly — and, according to their statements, quite proudly — violated this court's temporary restraining order," the motion said.

NESV spokeswoman Susan Goodenow declined comment.

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Associated Press Writer Schuyler Dixon in Dallas contributed to this report.