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Las Vegas judge blocks auction of Reggie Jackson memorabilia

Reggie Jackson

AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson throws out the ceremonial first pitch before the opening day baseball game between the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees, at Yankee Stadium in New York, Tuesday, April 1, 2008.

Updated Wednesday, July 6, 2011 | 4:43 p.m.

A judge on Wednesday ordered a Las Vegas company to halt an auction of a World Series ring and a commemorative watch that are the subject of an ownership dispute between retired baseball star Reggie Jackson and his stepmother and her family.

U.S. District Judge Kent Dawson issued a temporary restraining order against American Memorabilia Inc., Jackson’s stepmother Resurrection Jackson and members of her family who have been trying to sell a watch given to Jackson by the New York Yankees commemorating his 400th home run, as well as a 1977 World Series championship ring.

Jackson says these items belong to him and Dawson granted a request by his attorneys to halt an online auction that was to end Thursday.

Among several disputes between the parties, Jackson and American Memorabilia disagree over whether the ring is authentic.

Jackson says it’s a near-replica of his World Series ring and that he had it made for his father to wear while he was alive, with the understanding it would remain in the family after his death.

American Memorabilia insists it’s the actual ring presented to Jackson after he was named the 1977 series MVP after a memorable performance in Game Six on Oct. 18, 1977, when he hit three home runs on three pitches at Yankee Stadium, helping to lift the Yankees to the title over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

That performance helped cement Jackson’s nickname as "Mr. October’’ and the ring, if authentic, could fetch $50,000 or more at auction, American Memorabilia CEO Victor Moreno said.

The temporary restraining order requires that the ring and the watch be placed in a bank safe deposit box under the joint control of attorneys for Jackson and American Memorabilia.

The order is good for two weeks, giving the Jackson family members time to try to resolve the ownership dispute. If they don’t, the judge is likely to hold another hearing on whether to impose an injunction further blocking the sale of the items until the ownership fight is resolved, either by the family or the court.

Dawson said that for now, it's important the watch and ring not be sold or transferred given Jackson's chances at succeeding in his ownership claim.

"If the ring is sold it may not be able to be retrieved and the money may be disbursed. Mr. Jackson has a right to protect his memorabilia,'' Dawson said.

While members of Jackson's stepmother's family insist the watch and ring belong to her after Jackson's father died in 1994, Jackson says it was always understood he provided the jewelry for his father to wear while he was alive and that after his death the jewelry would remain in the family.

"I have to determine if the gift was absolute or just a type of temporary possession,'' Dawson said during a hearing.

Dawson’s ruling came one day after attorneys for Jackson, of Carmel, Calif., filed suit in U.S. District Court for Nevada against American Memorabilia, Moreno, Resurrection Jackson, her son Martinez Jackson Jr. and her nephew Wayne Lawsin.

Lawsin, a family spokesman, confirmed in an interview Wednesday what Moreno said in court earlier in the day: That Resurrection Jackson, 77, is living in poverty in Philadelphia and that she recently decided to auction the ring and watch to raise money for her health care costs. She’s on dialysis and needs a kidney transplant, they said.

Lawsin and Moreno questioned the motives of Reggie Jackson, saying he’s in the memorabilia business himself.

And Lawsin sided with Moreno in insisting that the ring at issue is the actual World Series ring given by the Yankees to Jackson, not the near-replica Jackson says it is.

Lawsin said that prior to the auction, Reggie Jackson had offered to pay considerably more for the jewelry than the $50,000 reserve bid Moreno had placed on the ring.

"If he thought it was a replica, he wouldn’t be fighting for this ring," Lawsin said.

"Reggie has everything. My mother cannot ever get a working kidney," Resurrection Jackson’s family said in a statement issued about the lawsuit.

But Jah Mz Jackson, one of Reggie Jackson’s brothers who tried resolving the jewelry dispute before it boiled over into a lawsuit, said Reggie Jackson has done plenty for their stepmother and that behind the scenes there are underlying financial disputes between the family members.

As for his stepmother’s health issues, he said, "It’s not a public issue."

"It’s a question of title in priceless heirlooms my brother earned through an arduous and decorated career," he said.

In a court declaration, Reggie Jackson made these points:

--After winning the 1977 World Series, the Yankees had championship rings made for each member of the team. These have the "Yankees’ trademark interlocking `NY’ logo in diamonds on the top."

--"I retain ownership and possession of the 1977 championship ring presented to me by the New York Yankees."

--"To honor my father, I had Balfour, the company that made the 1977 championship ring, make a similar ring for my father to wear. The ring looked identical to the 1977 championship ring, but I had an additional diamond placed on top of the interlocking `NY’ logo.’ This is the `Jackson Custom Ring."’

--"My father told me he was honored to be able to wear the Jackson custom ring and agreed with me that the Jackson custom ring should be passed to my siblings or other descendants after my father died."

--"I also allowed my father to display a watch that was given to me by the New York Yankees to congratulate me on hitting 400 home runs. This is the `Jackson 400 Watch."’

--"No amount of money can replace the history and meaning I attach to either the Jackson Custom Ring or the Jackson 400 Watch."

--"During his lifetime, I purchased a house for my father. That house was a gift and became the property of (Resurrection) following my father’s death. I understand that (Resurrection) has sold the house.

Additionally, in an interview, Reggie Jackson said there was no 1977 World Series MVP ring. Instead, he received a trophy for being MVP, Jackson said.

For Judge Dawson, something that happened after the death of Jackson’s father in 1994 appeared to add credibility to Reggie Jackson’s side of the story.

After his father, Martinez Jackson, lost the Jackson Custom Ring while he was alive, Reggie Jackson had a second one made for him. After his father died, Reggie Jackson says that second ring was returned to him – though Lawsin claims it was taken from his aunt.

(Resurrection Jackson later found the lost ring and that’s the one that’s been up for auction).

"The second ring was returned, which is evidence someone recognized this was not an unqualified gift," Dawson said during Wednesday’s court hearing.

And when Moreno complained to the judge that Reggie Jackson’s interest in the memorabilia for business reasons appeared to be driving the lawsuit, Dawson said that was even more proof that Reggie Jackson has a legitimate interest in the jewelry at issue.

"Mr. Jackson has a vested right in protecting the value of his memorabilia," Dawson said. "You could undercut the value of his memorabilia."

Moreno after the hearing expressed frustration that as the auctioneer he’s caught in the middle of a family fight. For both sides, he said, potentially tens of thousands of dollars are at stake.

That’s because the 1977 World Series ring presented to the late Yankees catcher – and Jackson teammate -- Thurman Munson sold for $143,750.

And given Jackson’s Game Six heroics in 1977, his ring would be worth just as much or more, Moreno said.

His company added in a statement Thursday: "American Memorabilia hopes that the question of ownership gets resolved quickly and that Ms. Jackson gets the proper care she needs.''

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