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State of Washington Sues Behring

Pro football: Seahawk owner accused of 'unfair and anti-competitive business practices.'

February 15, 1996|DOUG CONNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SEATTLE — Ken Behring's plan to move the Seahawks from Seattle to Southern California, already hobbled by a restraining order sought by county prosecutors, was tagged with more legal challenges Wednesday when the state of Washington filed an antitrust lawsuit in federal court, accusing the team owner of "unfair and anti-competitive business practices."

"He embarked on a campaign of innuendo and misinformation to block other professional teams from entering either the Seattle or Los Angeles markets," said State Atty. Gen. Christine Gregoire at a downtown news conference.

A state solicitor later explained that Behring had signed an agreement with other NFL owners that effectively kept other teams out of Los Angeles. That, and his franchise in Seattle, made him "the only game in town" in both areas, and he is using that monopoly to squeeze concessions from taxpayers.

Gregoire said potential damages from the suit could cost the Seahawks $1 billion, a sum Behring "likely could not afford to pay," she said in a statement.

The lawsuit argues that the state's economy and "public welfare" would be damaged by any breach in the Kingdome contract. "Washington state supported the Seahawks . . . to provide an engine to benefit the economy and general welfare of the region," Gregoire said.

The lawsuit also says Behring violated state consumer protection laws when it sold 1996 season tickets without warning buyers he planned to be gone when the season starts.

No hearing was scheduled for the suit. A federal judge denied Gregoire's request for a restraining order that would have secured the team's records and documents.

The ultimate destination of the Seahawks grew murkier this week, despite statements from the team that the move was proceeding as planned.

New activity at the team's facilities in nearby Kirkland sparked speculation that equipment shipped south last week was being returned, after difficulties arose in negotiating a deal to set up practice facilities in Anaheim.

And comments from NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue indicated the league may try to keep Behring in Seattle.

King County has already sued Behring, and he has reciprocated in another county. On March 27, state Supreme Court will hold a hearing on which county will have jurisdiction in the case.

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