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California appeals courts rejects Raiders $34m jury verdict

By Erica Holt and Jeff Shuttleworth, Bay City News Service


November 17, 2006

A state appeals court in Sacramento today threw out a $34.2 million jury verdict award the Oakland Raiders won in a 2003 trial, and an attorney for the team says they'll decide "shortly'' whether to appeal that decision to the state high court.

Three years ago a jury ruled that the board that oversees the operations at the Oakland Coliseum acted negligently when it negotiated to bring the football team back to Oakland from Los Angeles in 1995 by allegedly promising that Raiders games would be sold out.

Today, the state Court of Appeal panel in a 2-1 ruling said the Raiders lacked credibility when they claimed that they had been defrauded in their original June 8, 1995, agreement with the city of Oakland and Alameda County yet still went ahead and signed a supplemental agreement on June 1, 1996, that gave them substantial benefits, Alameda County Counsel Richard Winnie said.

The court said by signing the 1996 agreement, the team waived its right to sue for fraud or misrepresentation.

Winnie said the city and county had asked the trial judge in the case to throw out the $34.2 million in damages, but he refused to do so.

The appellate court ruled that the trial judge was wrong. It said that by singing the June 1, 1996, supplement, "the Raiders reaffirmed the validity of the original contract."

The "judges overturned the verdict because they said when we worked with the Coliseum back in 1996 we waived the right to sue for fraud and we believe they're wrong,'' Raiders' attorney Jeff Birren said.

"There's no further life to this litigation unless the Raiders decide to appeal to the California Supreme Court," Winnie said.

"We'll decide shortly if we'll appeal,'' Raiders attorney Birren said.

The litigation began in September 1997, when Oakland and Alameda County filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that the Raiders couldn't rescind their agreements with the city and county and move the team away from Oakland again.

The Raiders moved to Los Angeles in 1982 after 22 years in Oakland and returned in 1995 after plans for a new stadium in Southern California fell through.

Alameda County Supervisor Gail Steele, who chairs the Coliseum's board, said the ruling "is very good news for the city and the county" because it means that taxpayers won't have to foot the bill to pay damages to the Raiders.

Steele said the city and county and the Raiders reached an agreement last year that resolved most other legal issues.

"The Raiders were wonderful - they let other claims go," she said. Steele said, "We hope we can go on from here."

Winnie said, "We have seen a difference in their attitude" and he believes the Raiders learned a lesson from the 2003 trial.

He said even if the $34.2 million damage appeal had stood up, it didn't even cover the football team's legal expenses, let alone the hundreds of millions in damages it was seeking.

"Lawsuits are the worst way to do business and its much better to resolve your differences short of suing each other," Winnie said.

He said the county and city and the football team "all have a mutual stake in the success of the Raiders" in terms of it filling the Coliseum with fans and making money.

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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