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Yankees players' hearing on fight moved to Dec. 12

With the baseball season and their team's World Series defeat behind them, two New York Yankees players were told yesterday to return to Boston next month to answer questions about a fight at Fenway Park that injured a groundskeeper.

Neither outfielder Karim Garcia nor pitcher Jeff Nelson went to Roxbury District Court, where Clerk-Magistrate Michael Neighbors postponed a preliminary hearing until Dec. 12.

But Neighbors made it clear yesterday he wanted the Yankees players back in Boston on that date to discuss their version of last month's nationally televised fight in the Yankees bullpen during the ninth inning of Game 3 of the American League Championship Series.

"I will expect your clients here on that date," Neighbors told James Michael Merberg, who is representing Nelson, and Garcia's lawyer, Gerard F. Malone, who asked for the delay after joining the case Thursday.

Merberg said Nelson will attend, while Malone said he needed time to see if Garcia would travel to Boston.

At the hearing, the clerk-magistrate will decide whether misdemeanor assault and battery charges will be issued against the Yankees players.

Also yesterday, the Suffolk district attorney got involved by signing the formal complaint application against the players, a rare legal move in the case's early stages, according to lawyers. Prior to the move, one of the players' lawyers had challenged whether the district attorney should play a role in a show-cause hearing.

"The Commonwealth's position is that we do have standing to be here today and to represent the Commonwealth," Assistant District Attorney David Fredette told the court.

Legal specialists said the office's early involvement may be motivated by the heavy publicity surrounding the case.

"Generally at this stage, it's the clerk-magistrate's ballgame," said David Yas, a lawyer and editor of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. "It's simply for them to decide whether the case goes forward. That's in the usual case, but this isn't the usual case. This is Red Sox-Yankees. We may, in fact, see the same passion of the Sox-Yankees rivalry play out in the form of courtroom zealousness."

David Procopio, spokesman for the district attorney, said involvement in such a case is not unique.

"The reason it was done in this case is because the district attorney's office has worked closely with Boston police to conduct a fair and thorough investigation into this incident," he said. "It's more the fact that we got involved early, rather than because it's gotten so much publicity."

If charges are brought against Garcia and Nelson and they are convicted of the misdemeanor, each would face a maximum penalty of 2 1/2 years in prison and a $500 fine.

Yas, however, predicted that "these guys aren't going to jail for this, just as no one would go to jail if it happened on Lansdowne Street or Yawkey Way after a typical brawl."

Neither player's lawyer would comment on whether they are trying to settle the case out of court.

Patrick Jones, a lawyer hired by groundskeeper Paul Williams, said that his client was "on the mend" and that he wanted the criminal case to run its course before deciding whether to file a civil lawsuit.

Boston police said Williams, 24, of Derry, N.H., was assaulted by Garcia and Nelson in the Yankees' bullpen after Williams waved a towel in support of the Red Sox during the Oct. 11 playoff game. Police working a security detail in the bullpen said Williams was confronted by several Yankees, one of whom said: "If you're going to cheer, go to the other side."

The players have said Williams provoked them, but police said the attack by Nelson and Garcia was not provoked. Williams was treated at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center for head, mouth, and body injuries, including cleat marks on his body. The fight followed a bench-clearing brawl in the fourth inning.

Yesterday, two detectives brought a sealed brown evidence bag to court, which law-enforcement officials said contained the shirt Williams was wearing, which was shredded by metal cleats.

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