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THE INSIDE TRACK | T.J. SIMERS

It Could Be a Real Trial to Sit Through This One

March 15, 2001|T.J. SIMERS

The Wednesday morning session of the Raider-NFL trial began at 9:39 with Commissioner Paul Tagliabue on the witness stand.

The judge took a gulp of coffee. By 10:06, he was yawning.

Al Davis, meanwhile, appeared to be at home, surrounded by empty seats, which gave the whole courtroom an Oakland and Network Associates Coliseum feel to it. There was even some trash in the hallway.

There are three rows of permanent seats attached to the courtroom floor, but Davis parks himself in a wooden chair in the aisle so the jurors have to rub knees with him when they pass. I believe the courtroom bailiff has been derelict in her duty, and should notify authorities that Mr. Davis is a fire hazard.

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I BELIEVE THE sparse turnout is because people, knowing this is an NFL trial, have stayed away fearful that they would have to buy a personal seat license to attend. Right now Tagliabue & Co. are ticked because they didn't think of that.

The trial had begun a day earlier with opening statements. The Raiders' attorney, Joe Alioto, looked into the faces of a diverse jury of eight men and four women and told them Davis was a pioneer, hiring the first Hispanic coach, the first African-American coach and the first woman to occupy a high-level post with a team.

Someone suggested Davis probably went home and couldn't sleep, angry that he had signed a Polish kicker when what he really needed was an Asian quarterback to cover all the bases with this jury.

The Raiders have a backup plan, however. If things don't appear to be going well, they will have Coach Jon Gruden come in and scowl at the jury.

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I MISSED THE opening arguments, but I was told Alioto had tried to paint a picture of Davis as an important man by using Tagliabue's testimony. That's like asking a kindergartner to use finger paints and pass it off as a Picasso.

Alioto apparently asked Tagliabue if being selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as Davis had been, was a big deal. Tagliabue said yes. He's very good when you keep the questions simple. Then Alioto asked him if knew who had presented Davis at the Hall of Fame ceremonies. I'm told Tagliabue feigned ignorance, and from personal experience, I don't ever remember him faking it, but that's what they tell me he did this time.

Tagliabue was also asked if being chosen as a Hall of Fame presenter was a distinct honor, something that had happened to Davis many times.

Tagliabue pooh-poohed that, saying he had been a Hall of Famer presenter for John Riggins, and only because Madonna had turned Riggins down.

The jury laughed, and if it been time to render a verdict, it would have judged Tagliabue a funny man, which would have been a travesty to rival any in the annals of American jurisprudence.

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I TRIED LISTENING to the proceedings, but like the judge, I kept glancing at the clock waiting for the lunch break. I know this, if the attorneys for both sides were forced to eat in the courthouse cafeteria every day, a settlement would be forthcoming.

As it is, I'm already concerned about the judge. He kept sinking down in his chair, and I wanted to warn him: "Wait until you hear Carolina Panther owner Jerry Richardson on the stand next week--they don't make enough Red Bull to keep you awake."

I noticed, though, when Alioto made a mistake by referring to Hollywood Park's R.D. Hubbard as Mr. Hubbell, which happens to be the judge's name, he popped up.

"Leave me out of this," the judge said, and I think he really meant that.

I believe the highlight of the morning testimony was the argument Alioto and Tagliabue had over the definition of the word "concept." Because I had written "the statue of limitations" a day earlier in my column rather than the "statute of limitations," which so many e-mailers pointed out, I was eager to learn the proper meaning of new words.

I tried to listen closely to Alioto, but I got the impression he thinks anything ever said or written by anyone in the NFL over the past 20 years is all part of a conspiracy to undermine the Raiders--as if that's a bad thing.

He was a real nit-picker too. He kept referring to things Tagliabue said five to 10 years ago, and after living with my wife for 28 years, I can tell you this--he's getting off easy if Alioto is only going back five to 10 years.

I missed the NFL lead attorney in action, but they tell me he's a real Matlock knockoff down to the very last "aw shucks." I'm told he also forgot the Super Bowl was in Atlanta recently in his opening remarks, so I hope the jury understands he probably won't do his best work until the end of the show.

The plan is to have Tagliabue back on the stand today, but as long as Davis is allowed to block the aisle, I fear for my life and will not return.

I'm not asking that Davis be removed from the city--yet. Just the aisle.

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TODAY'S LAST WORD comes from City Attorney James K. Hahn:

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