Raiders seek to reinstate $1.2 billion suit against NFL
Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
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(04-03) 12:08 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- The Oakland Raiders will be looking to snap a legal losing streak Wednesday when they ask the state Supreme Court to reinstate a $1.2 billion suit that accuses the National Football League of forcing the team out of Los Angeles in 1995 by sabotaging plans for a new stadium.
The court's ruling, due in 90 days, isn't likely to affect the team's location -- its lease in Oakland runs through 2011, and the Raiders and the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority have expressed interest in negotiating an extension.
But the verdict could resolve Raider headman Al Davis' long-standing claim that his plans to keep the team in the larger and more lucrative Southern California market were undermined by league officials' ill-will toward him.
The Raiders moved from Oakland to Los Angeles in 1982 after winning an antitrust suit against the NFL, which opposed the shift. They returned to Oakland in 1995 after trying to relocate from the cavernous Los Angeles Coliseum to a planned new stadium at Hollywood Park in suburban Inglewood, which was never built.
A separate legal dispute with Oakland authorities began two years later, when city and county officials accused the team of trying to break its lease and the Raiders countersued for fraud, claiming they had been misled about advance ticket sales.
The Raiders sought $833 million in that suit, but a Sacramento jury awarded them only $34.2 million, and a state appeals court wiped out those damages in November. The court said the team had waived its right to sue when it negotiated a new contract with the Oakland Coliseum in 1996 after learning the truth about slow ticket sales.
In the case to be heard by the high court Wednesday in Los Angeles, the Raiders claimed that the NFL caused the Hollywood Park negotiations to fail by insisting on unacceptable conditions, including a requirement that the Raiders share the stadium with another team.
The lawsuit sought $500 million in damages for the failure of the stadium deal and $700 million for the right to put a new team in Los Angeles, which has not had an NFL franchise since 1995.
After a 10-week trial, which included five days of testimony by Davis, a Los Angeles jury issued a 9-3 verdict in 2001 finding no wrongdoing by the NFL. But Superior Court Judge Richard Hubbell granted the Raiders a new trial in 2002, finding jury misconduct.
According to juror declarations submitted by the Raiders, one panel member said during deliberations that he hated Davis and the team, and would never award them damages, because he once lost a bet on them. Another juror, a lawyer, told her fellow panelists about the legal rules they had to follow in a way that differed from the judge's instructions, the Raiders said.
The first juror said in a declaration that he had only been joking to ease tensions in the jury room, and the second juror denied giving legal instructions to others. Hubbell did not specify which actions were misconduct.
His ruling was overturned in June 2005 by a state appeals court, which said the Raiders had failed to show that either juror did anything wrong. The court quoted several jurors as saying they had never heard any expression of bias from the juror who supposedly hated the Raiders. The second juror's denials were supported by other jury members, the court said.
"When faced with such conflicting evidence, courts generally deny motions for a new trial,'' because the losing side in the case has the burden of proving that the jury verdict should be set aside, the three-judge panel said.
But the Raiders' lawyers said conflicts in the evidence must be resolved by the trial judge rather than by an appellate court, which reviewed only a written record.
"There is substantial evidence of egregious and prejudicial juror misconduct,'' the team's attorneys said in written arguments to the state Supreme Court. They said only Hubbell, the trial judge, could determine who was telling the truth -- the juror who said he was joking about hating the Raiders, or other jurors who said it didn't appear to be a joke.
Lawyers for the NFL countered that Hubbell's failure to specify the juror misconduct prevented any meaningful review of his ruling by a higher court and justified the appellate panel's reinstatement of the jury verdict. The Raiders' lawyers replied that the high court, if it has any doubts, should return the case to Hubbell to clarify his ruling.
The case is Oakland Raiders vs. National Football League, S132814.
With all due respect to Mr. Davis, he's misguided on this.
The basic problem is that the documents show Mr. Davis tried to play both sides -- NFL and Oakland -- in a way that he got the stadium he desired.
It's well-known amoung those like me who were first covering the issue and later -- in my case -- involved in it, that Mr. Davis stalled signing the Oakland agreement to see if he could get a better deal at Hollywood Park.
I do wish the organization wasn't so populated with "yes" people, as they're not countering the perceptions Mr. Davis is coming up with.
I understand he hates to lose, but the Raiders made a TON of tactical errors in this case, and didn't gain my support as some of the people were trying to undermine our Super Bowl - Oakland effort.
Attacking the NFL just reopens that case, BUT now with a twist -- they lost to Oakland. The Raiders tried to tie them together at first, but that did not work at all. In other words, we sue the NFL for tampering with our Oakland move, then sue Oakland for not giving us all we believed we were getting.
But now, Oakland's given them what they wanted, and because of that it was clear the NFL was not tampering, but the Raiders were creating the climate for things to look that way.
Not right at all.
Now, Mr. Davis wants to unravel all of that, and have egg on the face of the team yet again.
All I can say is his evidence better be water-tight this time.
I seriously doubt it is.