New Jersey is bringing on two top Washington, D.C. lawyers — including one who argued on behalf of George W. Bush in 2000 — to defend against a lawsuit seeking to block the start of sports betting in the state.

Theodore B. Olson, who argued in front of the Supreme Court following the contested 2000 presidential election, and Matthew D. McGill, a fellow partner at the Washington-based Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher law firm who successfully drafted briefs in 10 Supreme Court victories, filed paperwork with the U.S. District Court in Trenton on Monday asking to defend New Jersey.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association, National Basketball Association, National Football League, Office of the Commissioner of Baseball and the National Hockey League filed the lawsuit seeking to overturn a New Jersey law that runs counter to a federal act prohibiting sports betting in all but four states. Those states — Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana — allowed some form of sports wagering prior to the enactment of the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 1992.

Lawyers on both sides have been jockeying for position through multiple letters filed with the federal court since the complaint was filed earlier this month. Lawyers are scheduled to participate in the first court meeting on the lawsuit today — a conference call with Judge Lois H. Goodman intended to set a timetable for the rest of the case.

The sports leagues are asking the court to make a quick decision on the case, while the state’s lawyers say the proceedings shouldn’t be rushed.

“(T)here is little time before the state begins to carry out its threat to award sports gambling licenses in violation of federal law,” Newark-based William O’Shaughnessy wrote in a letter filed Friday with the court on behalf of the plaintiffs.

Meanwhile, state Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa wrote in a letter filed Aug. 17, “The state’s opportunity to defend this important matter should not be abridged, nor is there a basis for plaintiffs to insist that the court rush in rendering judgement.”

The five sports leagues argue the court has enough information — mainly the existence of the federal law and related past court cases — to render a quick decision and, if necessary, issue an injunction to block the start of sports wagering in New Jersey.

State lawyers counter that prior court cases are different from New Jersey’s argument, and that the state should be given sufficient time to present its evidence and facts before any decisions are rendered. They argue the state doesn’t anticipate awarding any licenses before Dec. 1.

At the same time, the state has not revealed how it intends to defend against the lawsuit, making references only to a possible constitutional argument. Lawyers said in documents that they intend to dispute whether the sports leagues are the right ones to bring the lawsuit and would suffer “irreparable harm” — something that money could not overcome — if sports wagering were to commence in New Jersey.

Olson and McGill specialize in constitutional law. Olson lists the Commerce Clause — a clause in the U.S. Constitution regulating commerce among states — as one of his specialities on the bio listed on the law firm’s website.

The case is being widely watched by lawyers and legal analysts across the country.

Brian Porto, a law professor and deputy director of the Sports Law Institute in Vermont, said he isn’t surprised that the NCAA is part of the suit because it has tried relentlessly to discourage gambling on college sports.

With college-age kids who are not paid, some of them poor and surrounded by coaches who pull an income, the temptation is greater to get involved in gambling, Porto said.

“The NCAA is scared to death of that sort of thing happening,” he said.

Contact Hoa Nguyen:

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