A powerful judge blasted James Dolan’s bizarre ban on his legal enemies from Knicks games as “totally crazy” and “the stupidest thing ever,” but the billionaire nevertheless stepped up the controversial clampdown just days later, court papers reveal.
The mercurial media mogul — who reportedly has used creepy facial-recognition software to bar unwelcome attorneys and critics from entering Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall — took heat in early November over the high-tech tactics from Delaware Chancery Court Judge Kathaleen McCormick, according to little-noticed court papers.
Judge McCormick — who made headlines last fall for forcing Tesla tycoon Elon Musk to follow through with his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter — ridiculed a June 24 letter from Madison Square Garden that announced the ban, slamming it during a Nov. 2 Zoom hearing as “the stupidest thing I’ve ever read.”
The June 24 letter — which warned lawyers at 90 firms suing his companies to not step foot in Dolan’s venues including the Garden, Radio City Music Hall, the Beacon Theater and Tao restaurants around the country — had cited concerns about “improper disclosures” that could arise from plaintiffs’ lawyers entering its venues.
In a sarcastic response, Judge McCormick shot back that attorneys inside Madison Square Garden’s venues might do “something as horrific as watch a play, a sporting event, order a hot dog, or use the bathrooms, these sorts of threatening acts.”
The judge went on to liken Dolan’s ban to the hypothetical example of McDonald’s refusing to sell a Big Mac to an enemy of the burger franchise, according to a transcript of a Nov. 3 Zoom hearing reviewed by The Post.
“I couldn’t think of a good analogy, but I thought about the tort plaintiff suing a McDonald’s or Walmart and getting a letter from those institutions saying: ‘If you attempt to buy a Big Mac, you know, we’re going to kick you out,’” Judge McCormick said during the Zoom hearing with attorneys. “It just seemed totally crazy.”
The tough judge unleashed the barbs in response to a legal spat over Madison Square Garden Entertainment’s $900 million acquisition of MSG Networks. Miffed shareholders, who claim that the company overpaid for the Dolan-controlled cable networks in the July 2021 deal, have also accused Dolan of “apparent pettiness” and a “bullying approach to managing various entities,” according to court papers.
Judge McCormick appeared to agree, noting on the Zoom call that Dolan’s clampdown at his venues “raises questions about how he handles his fiduciary obligations to the company … The bottom line is … [the ban] plays into all of their case themes.”
Nevertheless, two days later on Nov. 5, Dolan employed the vengeful tactic to oust Long Island attorney Alexis Majano from MSG before a Knicks-Celtics game. Majano’s law firm — Sahn Ward Braff Koblenz — had filed a suit on behalf of a fan who fell from a skybox at MSG during a Billy Joel concert, but the lawyer himself is not involved in the case.
“We had a whole night planned out that got botched,” Majano said. “This is ridiculous.”
The latest incident was the last straw for local politicians. Eight of them called on Dolan to scrap his ban or risk losing a $43 million state tax abatement, liquor licenses and a city permit “expiring” this year that allows the arena to have more than 2,500 seats, The Post reported.
“We are disappointed that, with all the challenges that the residents of this city and state face today, these elected officials have chosen to focus on taking up the cause of a small group of attorneys, who are defending ticket scalpers and other money grabbers, so they can attend sporting events and concerts,” a Dolan spokesperson said.
“We are gravely concerned that MSG Entertainment is using facial recognition technology against its perceived legal enemies, which is extremely problematic because of the potential to chill free speech and access to the courts,” reads the letter released Sunday by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, state Sens. Liz Krueger, Brad Hoylman-Sigal and other elected officials.
“As a place of public accommodation, MSG Entertainment has a legal obligation to New Yorkers and the general public to protect them against discrimination and cease harassing them.”
MSG Entertainment, which declined to comment on Judge McCormick’s comments, defended its policy.
“MSG instituted a straightforward policy that precludes attorneys from firms pursuing active litigation against the Company from attending events at our venues until that litigation has been resolved. While we understand this policy is disappointing to some, we cannot ignore the fact that litigation creates an inherently adversarial environment,” a spokesperson said.
“All impacted attorneys were notified of the policy. We continue to make clear that impacted attorneys will be welcomed back to our venues upon resolution of the litigation,” the statement adds.
In the shareholder suit being heard by Judge McCormick, Dolan was deposed for two days in December, court records show. The lawsuit is on track to go to trial in April. If Dolan loses, he and other Madison Square Garden directors could be on the hook for more than $100 million.