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No End in Sight to Raider Lawsuit

November 17, 1998|ALAN ABRAHAMSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a hearing that underscored the simmering enmity between the NFL and the Raider franchise, a federal judge on Monday urged the league and the team to settle a lawsuit that may yet determine whether pro football returns to Los Angeles.

Highly unlikely, lawyers for both sides said, launching a spirited volley.

The NFL's lead attorney, Frank Rothman, accused the Raiders of using the suit as a vehicle to move back to Los Angeles. Raider attorneys denied having a "hidden agenda," without, however, directly refuting that assertion.

"I am not very optimistic," Raider attorney Jack Quinn pointedly said of the possibility of settlement.

The hearing, before U.S. District Judge George King in Los Angeles, marked the most recent turn in a complex case that was filed more than three years ago, yet is nowhere near trial. It may, however, ultimately prove key in whether Los Angeles gets an expansion NFL team, or whether the Raiders return to town.

That's because the case centers on allegations, made by the Raiders, that they "own" the Los Angeles market. They played in the Coliseum from 1982-94, then returned to Oakland, their ancestral home, before the 1995 season.

Another core issue in the case: Did the league interfere in 1995 with a deal that would have kept the Raiders in Los Angeles, albeit in a new stadium to be built near Hollywood Park in Inglewood?

The case has dragged on while the NFL has proceeded with plans for an expansion franchise, even signaling it may award its 32nd team as soon as Feb. 16. A refurbished Coliseum is one of three apparent finalists. So is a partnership led by famed deal-maker Michael Ovitz, which plans a stadium in Carson. The Los Angeles groups are competing against one from Houston.

It's almost certain, however, that on Feb. 16 the legal wrangling between the league and the Raiders will still be ongoing--with uncertain implications for any Los Angeles-area expansion franchise.

Neither of the two central issues in the case came up Monday in court. Instead, the sides argued over such issues as whether the league's decision not to schedule the Raiders in Oakland in 1994--after the Northridge earthquake that January, which caused substantial damage to the Coliseum--violated federal antitrust laws.

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