On Legal Front, Criticisms Raised

Posted: June 26, 1989

CINCINNATI — In blocking baseball commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti from conducting a hearing for at least 14 days on whether Pete Rose bet on baseball games - a hearing that could result in the Reds manager being banned from baseball for life - Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Norbert A. Nadel issued a ruling widely criticized by legal experts yesterday.

"Certainly extraordinary," said Julian Eule, professor of law at the University of California at Los Angeles.

"Probably unprecedented," said Robert. J. Reinstein, dean of Temple University School of Law.

"There is absolutely no law to support it," said Gary W. Roberts of Tulane University School of Law. "He's a political hack. He calls it 'charting new waters.' I call it entering an illegal order."

Joseph Tomain, a University of Cincinnati Law School contracts professor, said, "I think he went further than he had to go. I understood him to say on his last point that Giamatti was prejudiced . . . and that really should have been the issue at the preliminary hearing (in two weeks)."

The ruling marked a rare court victory for someone challenging the broad powers of the baseball commissioner. Federal courts have upheld the commissioner's sweeping powers in deciding previous challenges by team owners Charles O. Finley and Ted Turner.

There is little doubt that the case could have political ramifications for Nadel, who faces a retention election as a common pleas judge next year. Around the city, Rose remains an intensely popular figure, and dozens of the manager's supporters appeared at the courthouse throughout the hearings.

"Nick" Nadel, 50, was raised in Cincinnati and began teaching school, upon graduating from the University of Cincinnati in 1961, to pay for his education at Salmon P. Chase Law School, also in Cincinnati. While a law student, Nadel won a job as constable for Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Louis J. Schneider Sr. In 1965, Nadel was named clerk for Schneider's son, newly elected Ohio Supreme Court Justice Louis J. Schneider Jr.

Nadel also became active in the Republican Party, the dominant party in the region. By 26, he was president of the 7th Ward Republican Club; and by 30, he was vice president of the Hamilton County Young Republicans Club and a director of the Hamilton County Republican Club.

While remaining active in politics, he pursued his career in law. After graduating from law school, Nadel continued briefly as clerk for Schneider and then received a series of appointments to local posts: assistant local prosecutor, municipal court referee, and finally, at age 30, assistant U.S. attorney. In 1971, Nadel became first assistant U.S. attorney, where he served until being named to the municipal court on a temporary basis in 1974.

In 1976, Nadel was appointed to a permanent municipal court judgeship. Four years later, he was elected to the newly created post of domestic-relations judge and was appointed president judge of that court in 1981.

In 1982, Nadel made his first bid for Common Pleas Court, but he lacked strong support from his own party and narrowly lost the election to the underdog Democrat. News accounts at the time said some party regulars were unhappy with Nadel for failing to fire Democratic officials in the Domestic Relations Court after taking over as president judge.

Nadel explained himself at the time by saying: "We're doing what we think is right. I'm a very loyal Republican, but I have a responsibility to do a good job."

Within weeks of losing the common pleas election, Nadel was appointed to a vacancy on that bench that occurred with the death of a judge in late 1982. By the time of his appointment, Nadel had fired four Democrats in the domestic- relations office, according to news accounts.

In his years as a judge, both on the lower court and common pleas, Nadel has frequently been called a friendly and warm jurist, but has been criticized as a political opportunist. In one newspaper profile, several lawyers criticized him for his concern over publicity about himself.

He had been an early proponent of allowing television cameras into the courtroom, but he also was criticized for making decisions based on public opinion.

"I think he plays to the crowd," one former Municipal Court prosecutor said in a 1979 Cincinnati Post article.

Even his critics agree he is compassionate and concerned about the rights of victims. As a common pleas judge, Nadel quickly became known for his tough positions on defendants convicted in child-abuse and drunken-driving cases. At times, his rulings have drawn fire from legal experts but have won awards from such groups as Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

While some legal experts yesterday said that Nadel's decision appeared wrong and could be considered politically safe, they cautioned that there could be other reasons for the judge's ruling.

"Sometimes I have seen common pleas judges make decisions that are political," said Temple's Reinstein. But in other cases, sometimes judges are ''motivated to do what they think is right, regardless of what the law is," he said.

In issuing his ruling yesterday, Nadel acknowledged that the case presents a "highly unusual situation, to say the least," because it raises the question of whether "this court should stick its nose into major-league baseball." But, he added from the bench, "This court will never be deterred

from doing what is right."

The judge declined to answer questions after his decision.

While the commissioner's attorney, Louis Hoynes, called the decision a ''serious mistake," Rose's attorneys made it clear they believed the judge acted on the evidence.

"The judge is absolutely right," said Reuven Katz, Rose's lawyer and longtime friend. "I think the public would like to see Pete Rose get a fair hearing."

And while describing himself as someone who cares about baseball, Katz added: "Justice is more important. That's what we are seeking."

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