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USFL-NFL Trial Off to Stumbling Start as Many Jurors Excused

May 13, 1986

The United States Football League finally got its 1 1/2-year-old suit against the NFL into a courtroom Monday in New York, but the trial got off to halting start when nearly two-thirds of the first 145 jurors called were immediately excused.

U.S. District Judge Peter Leisure opened jury selection by telling the prospective jurors that they would be expected to serve for the two months the trial was expected to take.

Then he began hearing excuses from jurors who said they couldn't serve that long--normal jury duty is two weeks--and 89 of the first group were dismissed.

The suit, which is likely to determine the fate of the four-year-old USFL, was filed in October, 1984, and charges the NFL with violating the Sherman Antitrust Act by monopolizing the pro football market. The USFL seeks $440 million in damages, which trebled, as antitrust awards allow, would amount to $1.32 billion.

The suit also asks that the NFL contract with one of the three major networks be voided and charges that the NFL pressured those networks not to give the USFL a contract when it decided in the summer of 1984 to switch from a spring season to a fall one.

For the three seasons it played in the spring--it plans to begin autumn play in September--the USFL had contracts with ABC and ESPN cable network, but only the ESPN contract was transferable to the fall.

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