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Lawsuit that could impact Broncos future ownership moves ahead after ruling

Pat Bowlen's brother wants the current trustees running the team removed. The trustees had hoped to have the case dismissed - but a judge on Friday denied that request.

An Arapahoe County judge on Friday refused to dismiss a court case that could help determine the future ownership of the Denver Broncos – and it could eventually go to trial, 9Wants to Know has learned.

The case was filed in probate court by William “Bill” Bowlen, the brother of ailing Broncos owner Pat Bowlen. It seeks the removal of the three trustees running the team amid the assertion that they are not fulfilling the longtime owner’s wishes.

The trustees, in turn, sought the dismissal of the case.

Arapahoe District Judge Charles M. Pratt denied that request Friday. His ruling was confirmed by Rob McCallum, spokesman for the Colorado Judicial Department.

"The case is not being dismissed," McCallum told 9NEWS. "It will proceed in probate court before Judge Charles Pratt."

No trial date has been set, and it's possible the trust will file motions at a later date seeking its dismissal.

Much of the dispute is shrouded in secrecy because it is being fought in probate court, where the details of legal documents are not a matter of public record.

That litigation began in October when Bill Bowlen filed his motion seeking the removal of the three trustees running the team: Joe Ellis, the team’s president and CEO; Richard Slivka, the team’s executive vice president and general counsel; and Mary Kelly, Pat Bowlen’s longtime attorney.

Bill Bowlen believes one of Pat Bowlen’s daughters from his first marriage is ready to take control of the NFL team - something the trustees have disputed.

Since then, Pat Bowlen’s wife, Annabel Bowlen, has joined the fight, filing a motion seeking to be heard in the case.

Pat Bowlen stepped away from his duties with the team in 2014 after announcing that he was battling Alzheimer’s, a progressive brain disease that causes memory loss and a deterioration in cognitive abilities. Annabel Bowlen announced last June she also has been diagnosed with the disease.

When Pat Bowlen gave up his role with the team he purchased in 1984, he left Ellis in charge of running its day-to-day operations and Ellis, Slivka and Kelly with the task of eventually determining whether any of his seven children should succeed him as the controlling owner of the Broncos. . He established criteria he expected that child to meet – education, including an advanced degree, business acumen, five years of combined experience working for the Broncos or the NFL and traits such as character, honesty and integrity.

Beth Bowlen Wallace, 48, is one of Pat Bowlen’s two children from his first marriage, and she made it clear last spring that she wanted to succeed him as the team’s controlling owner. Brittany Bowlen, 29, and one his five children from his current marriage to Annabel, also wants the job.

After Beth Bowlen Wallace announced her intention last spring to run the Broncos, the trustees issued a terse statement saying “[she] is not capable or qualified at this time” to lead the team. Instead, it appears the trustees are grooming Brittany Bowlen for the role as controlling owner of the team.

Court documents filed in recent months lay bare the intra-family dispute over the long-term future of the Broncos’ ownership.

On Oct. 25, Bill Bowlen filed his motion in Arapahoe County District Court, seeking an order removing the three trustees.

Among Bill Bowlen’s assertions is that the trustees “are refusing to implement a long-term succession plan that meets Patrick D. Bowlen’s stated goals of keeping the Denver Broncos Football Club in his family and under the management and control of his children, knowing that implementation of that plan essentially means the defendants will be working themselves out of a position with the Denver Broncos Football Club.”

Ellis, Slivka and Kelly, Bill Bowlen charged, “are causing dysfunction within the Denver Broncos Football Club and the Bowlen family.”

Bill Bowlen at one time had an ownership stake in the team but sold it to his brother years ago. He supports Beth Bowlen Wallace taking control of the team.

On Nov. 23, attorneys for the trustees sought a stay in Bill Bowlen’s motion while they asked the NFL to step in and settle the dispute.

That filing, a copy of which was obtained by 9NEWS, also reiterated the position of the trustees: “Simply stated, in the trustees’ judgment, Ms. Wallace lacks the business experience and acumen, knowledge, leadership skills, integrity and character necessary to be the sole individual running an NFL franchise valued at $2.5 billion.”

Contact 9NEWS reporter Kevin Vaughan with tips about this or any story: kevin.vaughan@9news.com or 303-871-1862.