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Judge Lays Down the Law

Jurisprudence: With closing arguments set to begin, jurors get instructions on law that is involved in Raider case.

April 26, 2001|ALAN ABRAHAMSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Oakland Raiders' $1-billion lawsuit against the NFL inched toward resolution Wednesday as jurors were instructed--for more than an hour--on the points of law that control the case.

Using the dry and often-impenetrable legalese the law demands in such instances, including such mind-twisting phrases as "status quo ante," Judge Richard C. Hubbell told jurors that the Raiders were pressing five claims stemming from the collapse of a 1995 proposal to build a stadium at Hollywood Park. He also read aloud the league's rebuttal that it did nothing wrong under the law. It took an hour for Hubbell to plow through 100 separate instructions.

The Raiders claim the league interfered with the 1995 deal, leaving the team no choice but to return to Oakland.

In essence, according to the instructions in the case, the Raiders say the league did not abide by a contract--in this case, the NFL's constitution--and, in doing so, violated an assumption implicit in every contract to treat the other side fairly. The Raiders' claims also include the notion that the league breached a fiduciary duty to the team.

The league denies any wrongdoing. According to the instructions Hubbell read the eight-man, four-woman jury, the NFL also maintains the Raiders gave up any right to the Los Angeles market when the team moved to Oakland.

In all, the Raiders are claiming more than $1 billion in damages. On top of that, the team also is seeking punitive damages--which Hubbell said jurors could award if, and only if, they found the NFL had engaged in "despicable" conduct.

Under the law, he said, "despicable" means conduct "so vile, base, contemptible, miserable, wretched or loathsome that it would be looked down upon and despised by ordinary, decent people."

The NFL is adamant in its assertion that it has done no such thing.

Since the case is civil, not criminal, it takes a 9-3 vote--not a unanimous verdict--for the Raiders to prevail on any claim. With the exception of the punitive damages claim, the legal standard is not the familiar "beyond a reasonable doubt" that is in effect in criminal cases; instead, the Raiders prevail if jurors find that a "preponderance" of the evidence, or 50.1%, is on the team's side.

Punitive damages demand a higher standard, called "clear and convincing" evidence. Closing arguments are due to begin today.

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