The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission sued the Los Angeles Raiders Wednesday, demanding at least $57 million in actual and punitive damages for alleged breach of contract.
The suit in Los Angeles Superior Court charges that the Raiders violated their 1984 contract with the commission by failing to build luxury boxes on the Coliseum rim and by announcing a decision to move to Irwindale before the 1991 expiration of the football team's lease to play in the Coliseum.
The suit also asks the court to:
-- Order that all money paid by Irwindale to the Raiders, including the $10-million advance, be placed into a "constructive trust" and turned over to the Coliseum Commission.
Unbuilt Luxury Boxes
-- Order the Raiders to pay back more than $7 million, including interest, that the commission advanced to the Raiders after they moved to Los Angeles from Oakland on the contractual stipulation that they would use the money to build the luxury boxes.
-- Declare that the commission has the right to terminate the Raiders' lease immediately and to order the team out of the Coliseum.
If the courts went along with all of this, the Irwindale-Raiders deal under which the Raiders would move to Irwindale and build a stadium there evidently would be aborted, and the Raiders' future playing status in the Coliseum would be left in doubt.
The commission lawsuit is only the latest legal maneuver engendered by the Raiders-Irwindale deal. The Raiders have filed an $18.5-million claim charging that the Coliseum Commission breached the 1984 contract, and a taxpayers suit has been filed by Los Angeles City Councilman Ernani Bernardi to stop the deal. A Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order against Irwindale in that suit this week, citing failure to file an environmental report.
Coliseum General Manager Joel Ralph said the vote, in a special closed meeting, to file the commission suit was five ayes and one abstention. Voting for the suit were commission President Alexander Haagen and members Deane Dana, Fred Riedman, Matthew Grossman and Richard Riordan. Abstaining was Pete Schabarum.
Dana and Schabarum are Los Angeles County supervisors. Schabarum, whose supervisorial district includes Irwindale, has described himself as neutral on the Irwindale-Raiders deal.
A Raiders spokesman commented, "Although we have not seen the lawsuit, this wounds like total harassment and what we would call a nuisance lawsuit."
"It's the very essence of the claim that the Raiders previously filed against the Coliseum Commission. No one has been more guilty of bad faith and unfair dealings than the Coliseum Commission," said Irv Kaze, a Raider official.
In Irwindale, official city spokesman Xavier Hermosillo declared of the commission lawsuit:
"What a folly. They couldn't make the money legitimately. Now, they want us to punch their meal ticket. Give me a break! They've harassed us in court, they've tried to kill us in the Legislature. They've stooped to an all-time low in groveling, and now they have the audacity to ask us to give them the money destined for the Raiders stadium. That's gall."
Probably the most striking demand in the lawsuit is the one that Irwindale payments to the Raiders under a $115-million financing agreement be given to the Coliseum Commission.
Asked to explain why this would be just, the commission's attorney, Marshall Grossman of the firm Alschuler, Grossman & Pines, said that owner Al Davis and other team officials used their Coliseum lease as a bargaining chip to, as the suit put it, "reap the benefit of commercial bribery by Irwindale."
But when the commission president, Haagen, was asked if the money would then be used to renovate the Coliseum to make it into a better football viewing facility, as Davis has wanted, Grossman would not allow him to respond.
As for the request in the suit that the courts determine that the commission has the right to throw the Raiders out of the stadium, Grossman did not say the right would be exercised.
He said the commission merely wants that right affirmed, since, he contended, the Raiders have breached their playing contract.
Such demands "are not a ploy" to bring Davis back to the negotiating table with the Coliseum Commission, Grossman said.
Yet, he remarked, the commission remains dedicated to continuing the play of professional football in the stadium.
Grossman said the Coliseum has been badly damaged by the Raiders' failure to build the luxury suites. According to the 1984 contract, the Raiders were obligated to construct "as soon as practicable as determined by the (Raiders) in (their) reasonable discretion."
He noted that the Raiders began construction of the boxes for three weeks last spring, but said the team failed to provide a payment bond and a faithful performance bond as required under the contract and then ceased the construction as soon as they were demanded.