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Raiders' Attorney Paints Team as Mistreated Victim

Jurisprudence: Closing arguments begin after seven weeks of testimony.

April 27, 2001|ALAN ABRAHAMSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In an impassioned plea that cast the Oakland Raiders as oppressed and the NFL as the oppressor, an attorney for the Raiders urged a Los Angeles Superior Court jury on Thursday to do justice on behalf of millions throughout Southern California deprived of NFL football.

"If there's no justice, there's tyranny," attorney Joseph M. Alioto said in arguing that the Raiders deserve an award of more than $1 billion in their contentious suit against the league. "You will be representing the people," Alioto also told jurors. "All of them."

NFL attorney Allen Ruby said the Raiders deserve nothing.

"They have no case," he told jurors, adding a few moments later, "Their case fails. And this is not a surprise."

The opposing viewpoints were presented as the trial, centering on a 1995 proposal to build a stadium at Hollywood Park, edged toward conclusion after seven weeks. A few days after the deal fell apart, the Raiders moved back to their original home in Oakland. The team claims it had no choice but to leave L.A. The Raiders, who played here from 1982 through 1994, also contend they still own the L.A. market for NFL football.

The team is also seeking punitive damages--an amount that would punish the NFL for its conduct. The NFL denies any wrongdoing.

Both lawyers are due to resume arguments today. The case will go to jurors thereafter.

Listening intently Thursday in the small courtroom were Raider owner Al Davis, dressed in silver and black as has been his habit during the case, and NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Both had testified at length during the trial. They sat four seats apart in the front row--and ignored each other.

Alioto and Ruby offered jurors thoroughly contrasting styles.

Alioto's voice boomed as he launched three hours of argument by citing philosopher John Locke. He also referred to a quatrain from the "Rubaiyat" of Omar Khayyam, the dilemma of Hobson's choice, the sword of Damocles, the movie classic "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," Lady Justice, Napoleon Bonaparte--and his own cuff links, emblazoned with the scales of justice, a gift from his wife when he passed the bar exam, he said with a smile, "a long time ago."

The soft-spoken Ruby declared that he would stick to the evidence.

The Raiders never ultimately committed to doing the Hollywood Park deal, Ruby argued, and no one ever committed to financing the deal.

"You heard no testimony who was going to pay for this stadium, or how," Ruby said. "And [the Raiders] have no case, for that reason."

As part of the Hollywood Park deal, Ruby said, the NFL offered the Raiders at least one Super Bowl, 18,000 Super Bowl tickets and a waiver of the visiting team's gate share. Over time, Ruby estimated, that was worth at least $200 million.

So, Ruby asked, "What's the [Raiders'] beef?" He answered: "The beef is, it is said, that the NFL should have offered more."

Ruby also contended that the Raiders did not own the L.A. market--a complicated claim based on a 1980s lawsuit between the team and the league that underpinned the Raiders' move to Los Angeles from Oakland.

The Raiders won the suit, and $35 million. Years later, when with interest the judgment had grown to $64 million, the sides settled the case for $18 million.

The NFL, Ruby argued, "paid for and thought it was getting peace." Instead, it got "another big lawsuit and another demand for big money."

Alioto asserted that the $46 million difference is what the Raiders paid for the rights to the L.A. market.

Referring to the league and to Davis, Alioto said, "Why don't they pay the man? He paid them." Then Alioto answered the question. Because, he said, "It's the Raiders."

The NFL discriminates against the Raiders, Alioto insisted. He said repeatedly that the NFL is "consistently inconsistent" in its treatment of the team.

The reason? The 1980s lawsuit, which, Alioto said "still grates" on NFL owners and officials and inspired New York Giants' owner Wellington Mara, for one, to complain--in a letter shown frequently throughout the case to the jury--of Raider "atrocities."

Alioto, in perhaps the understatement of the case, also said Davis is "not an old-boy network guy."

That served as his segue into a long dissection of the terms of the Hollywood Park deal--the issue that has emerged as the key dispute in the trial.

The NFL offered the Raiders at least one Super Bowl, as Ruby pointed out. The Raiders claim, however, that Hollywood Park needed at least two Super Bowls to make the deal work.

In May 1995, the NFL offered a second Super Bowl on condition that a second team could play at the stadium. The terms of that option kept changing and, in the second week of June 1995, were changed one more time--to allow for the possibility of the second team beginning play at the new stadium at the same time as the Raiders.

Tagliabue testified Monday he made that change. He said he thought it gave the league needed flexibility.

To the Raiders, however, that made what they believed was fast becoming a bad situation "impossible." No other team in the league has had a second team imposed on them, much less at a new stadium, Alioto said.

The Giants and Jets share Giants Stadium in New Jersey but that arrangement is by mutual agreement.

Alioto produced for jurors a number of documents prepared by the NFL that said L.A. deserves a franchise--not, Alioto noted, the plural, franchises. He seized on a September 1995, memo that said the NFL ought to "put one team" in Los Angeles.

"Ta-dah!" Alioto exclaimed.

"They knew," Alioto also said, "they had destroyed a privately funded, state-of-the-art stadium in the best place in the country for it, the place with the best potential for Super Bowls. And," he continued, "they were willing to do it."

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