Lawyer offers O's local option If DeWitt group backs off, Angelos interested in buying

March 11, 1993|By From Staff Reports Staff writers Mark Hyman and Jon Morgan contributed to this article.

A Baltimore lawyer said this week that he might lead a local group trying to buy the Orioles if Cincinnati investors attempting to purchase the team aren't successful.

Peter G. Angelos, whose law firm represents thousands of workers claiming asbestos-related illnesses, said he has talked to some people interested in investing in the team.

But Angelos said that the discussions were preliminary and stressed that he would move ahead with his plans only if the Orioles aren't sold to a group led by William O. DeWitt Jr., a Cincinnati businessman who has been negotiating for months to buy the team from owner Eli S. Jacobs.

"I have spoken to a number of people who believe we could participate effectively. They've expressed an interest in getting involved if the present group is unsuccessful," Angelos said.

Angelos, 63, declined to identify local investors he has contacted or to say how much money he or other investors might have promised. He is considering making an offer because he prefers that the team have local owners, the lawyer said.

"I am just another Baltimorean who would like to see the club owned by local interests. If I can help produce that result -- if the DeWitt group withdrew -- I'd be willing to make my contribution."

Controlling interest in the Orioles hasn't been held by local investors since Jerold C. Hoffberger sold the team in 1979.

Edward Bennett Williams, owner from 1979 until his death in 1988, lived in Potomac, but headed Williams & Connolly, a Washington law firm. Jacobs lives in New York and owns an investment company there.

Jacobs, whose financial empire is troubled, has agreed to sell the team to the Cincinnati investors, according to sources familiar with the deal. A sale is on hold while Jacobs' creditors negotiate with the prospective buyers, the sources said.

Angelos said he has not spoken to Jacobs or to the Orioles owner's creditors about a possible bid for the team, for which DeWitt's group is said to be offering about $140 million.

Angelos isn't a Maryland native -- he was born in Pittsburgh on July 4, 1929 -- but he has lived in Baltimore since childhood.

For many years, he was involved in city politics. In 1959, he won a seat in the City Council representing the Third District and served until 1963. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1967 and City Council president in 1971.

Angelos long has represented unions, including locals of the United Steelworkers of America and the Building Trades Council. His association with the unions led to his prominent role representing workers who claim damages because of exposure to asbestos.

In 1981, he filed the first of a series of cases involving steel mill and shipyard workers who believed they were harmed by inhaling the tiny mineral fibers as long as 50 years ago. The mammoth lawsuit, heard last year in Baltimore Circuit Court, pitted 8,600 workers against 14 asbestos manufacturers.

It was the biggest case of its kind in history, and Angelos represented more than 90 percent of the plaintiffs. The firm that carries his name swelled from five lawyers when the case began to more than 50.

Half the manufacturers settled out of court, and the others were found liable by the jury last July. The jury awarded $11.2 million to three former Bethlehem Steel workers whose circumstances were used as test cases. All the other plaintiffs will have "mini-trials" to determine if they were affected by asbestos and, if so, the size of their awards.

Angelos estimates that the final awards total likely will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Because his firm has the standard, one-third contingency arrangement, he acknowledged in an interview last year that his firm "stands to make a lot of money."

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