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Ex-Charger Owner vs. Raider Nemesis : NFL Figures to Butt Heads in Courtroom

October 01, 1986|TIM WATERS | Times Staff Writer

San Diego Superior Court Judge Gilbert Harelson was joking. Someone from the media had suggested to him that tickets be sold to the upcoming trial that pits former Chargers owner Gene Klein against Al Davis, managing general partner of the Los Angeles Raiders.

Without ruling on the idea's merit, the judge remarked that such a sale would probably result in the two men feuding over who should be the concessionaire.

Feuding has been a mainstay in the relationship between Klein and Davis--a relationship that will be on public display in coming weeks as jurors determine the fate of a lawsuit brought by Klein against Davis.

The suit accuses Davis of malicious prosecution for naming Klein as a defendant in the antitrust action brought by Davis against the National Football League in 1981, which Klein says caused him to suffer a heart attack while on the witness stand.

Attorneys for both men said they expect to start selecting jurors today. The trial will start next week before Harelson, and is expected to last a month or more, with both Klein and Davis testifying about their relationship.

To hear Klein's attorney, Joseph Cotchett, tell it, it should be lively theater.

The two have not gotten along for years, he said, way before 1981, when Davis launched his legal drive to move his team from Oakland to Los Angeles and the Raiders defeated the Chargers to win a spot in the Super Bowl. After the game, Klein called Davis "a sick man."

"Bitter, bitter, beyond bitter," Cotchett said when asked to describe the relationship. He paused, then added: "Beyond bitter doesn't even describe it."

Not so, said Davis' attorney, Robert C. Baxley.

"You've got to get this straight," Baxley lectured to a reporter on Tuesday. "We're claiming Klein dislikes Davis. Davis is ambivalent about Klein. He doesn't like him or dislike him."

The attorneys on Tuesday began reviewing questionnaires filled out by prospective jurors. The 27-page documents were handed out in an effort to cut down the time it will the two sides to select a panel.

Among the 82 questions put to the potential jurors was one asking whether they had read any of 11 books that deal with professional football and that, presumably, could affect their impartiality. Among the titles: "Damn You, Al Davis."

Klein filed his lawsuit against Davis in January, 1984. The suit claims that Davis misused the courts in an attempt to harass and intimidate Klein by naming him as a defendant in his antitrust action along with NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and Los Angeles Rams owner Georgia Frontiere. The three were accused of entering into a conspiracy to block the Raiders' move from Oakland to Los Angeles.

A federal court jury ruled in 1982 that the NFL could not prevent the Raiders from moving to Los Angeles. However, Davis' claims against Klein, Rozelle and Frontiere were dismissed by U.S. District Judge Harry Pregerson at the close of the trial.

Klein's lawsuit against Davis also states that his health suffered as a result of having to testify in the antitrust action. Klein suffered a heart attack in May, 1981, after several exhausting hours on the witness stand.

Although Klein's lawsuit asks for $33 million in damages from Davis, Cotchett shrugged off the issue of money, saying there is a larger principle involved.

"We will ask for an amount to satisfy Klein," Cotchett said. "What we hope is that this jury speaks loud and clear that you just don't go around filing lawsuits."

Davis attorney Baxley, however, termed the lawsuit "pure harassment," and another attempt by Klein and the entire NFL "to break Al Davis." The latter, he predicted, will not occur.

Additionally, Baxley contended that Klein, who sold his majority ownership of the Chargers in 1984 and now raises and races thoroughbred horses, brought about his heart attack himself by drinking and smoking too much prior to 1975.

"He smoked three packs of cigarettes and drank a quart of liquor a day," Baxley said.

Davis himself takes credit for one of the bad habits. "The doctors admitted that (Klein) had been drinking . . . for 15-20 years steadily," Davis told a reporter Sunday, after the Chargers-Raiders game at the Coliseum in Los Angeles. "I drove him to that, too. . . . He's a smoker. He's overweight.

"It's harassment, that's all it is, to get me out of this environment and take me down there," Davis said of the lawsuit. " . . . Even league headquarters is happy."

Cotchett countered that, although Klein did smoke and drink for many years "like any businessman," he gave both up in 1975. He now drinks only an occasional glass of wine, Cotchett said.

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