Hawks-Thrashers co-owner must pay $2 million by next week

Belkin has agreed to post the money, his attorney said.

The eight-man group -- which owns the Hawks, Thrashers and Philips Arena operating rights -- have been fighting in court since 2005 over how much seven of the partners should pay Belkin to buy out his 30 percent stake in the group.

A judge ruled in August that the contract that outlined the buyout process was too ambiguous -- and that the Spirit should resume operations as it was before 2005.

To stay in the group as a minority owner, Belkin is required to pay his partners $25.8 million, according to court documents. That represents his 30 percent share of so-called capital or cash calls made during litigation.

Belkin filed his notice to appeal the judge's decision last fall. At the time, he also asked the judge to stay his decision pending the appeal.

The judge earlier this month asked Belkin to put up $2 million, which he must do by Thursday. This basically buys Belkin time; no action can be taken on the judge's order if Belkin pays the money.

The case likely won't be heard at the Maryland Court of Special Appeals in Annapolis until the summer, said attorney Steven Estep, who is representing Atlanta-based owner Michael Gearon and Washington, D.C.-based Spirit part-owners Bruce Levenson and Ed Peskowitz.

A decision isn't likely to come before the end of the year, Estep said.

The eight-man ownership group bought the Hawks, Thrashers and Philips Arena operating rights from Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting System in spring 2004.

Rather than having a single managing partner, the Spirit shares voting power equally among three subsets of owners: Atlanta-based partners Gearon Jr., Michael Gearon Sr., Rutherford Seydel and Beau Turner; Washington-based partners Levenson, Ed Peskowitz and Todd Foreman; and the Boston-based Belkin.

The group had its share of disagreements from the start. Their sparring became more high profile, however, over a trade with the Phoenix Suns for guard Joe Johnson, who has since become a four-time All-Star.

Belkin, who previously accused Levenson of player tampering, stepped down as the team's representative to the NBA and then asked that the seven others buy out his 30 percent share.

The ownership dispute has impacted both the NBA and NHL teams -- eventually raising doubts that the group is financially stable enough to support both of them. According to court documents, the Hawks and Thrashers have lost more than $174 million since the 2002-03 season, including $50 million in the past two years alone.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.