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Lineup Change for the Jury as Deliberations Start Anew

Jurisprudence: Foreman is dismissed, dealing a setback to weary jurors in Raider trial, already in its eighth week.

May 05, 2001|ALAN ABRAHAMSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After the vacation-bound jury foreman was dismissed Friday from the Oakland Raiders' $1-billion Superior Court lawsuit against the NFL, deliberations immediately started over with an alternate juror in what already has been a long-running case.

Judge Richard C. Hubbell dismissed the foreman, a 60-year-old Los Angeles city employee, after the morning break in the jury's fifth day of deliberations. He did not explain to the other jurors why he was letting the foreman go, explicitly instructing them that they were not to speculate.

The judge also told the new jury to disregard the prior four-plus days of deliberations and "begin anew." Several jurors groaned. One rolled her eyes, looked to the ceiling, then covered her eyes in a tableau of apparent exasperation.

The trial, which centers on the team's claim that the NFL undermined a 1995 proposal to build a stadium at Hollywood Park, is in its eighth week. In a note sent Thursday to Hubbell, the foreman said he had believed the trial would last four to six weeks, adding, "I am very sorry." In open court Friday, Hubbell noted that the foreman had a prepaid ticket to go to South Carolina today.

The NFL had opposed dismissal of the foreman at any time before the end of court Friday, plainly hoping he could cobble together a verdict.

NFL attorney James Keyte went so far as to ask for a mistrial immediately after Hubbell had ruled he would be letting the foreman go. Keyte said that excusing the foreman was "premature" and "prejudicial." The judge promptly denied the request.

Keyte's move seemed to mark a curious turn. NFL spokesman Joe Browne said outside court Thursday that the league would "respect" the foreman's "binding" vacation commitment, even "thank him for his service and wish him well."

The explanation? In the note sent Thursday, the juror had said he would "appreciate [the judge's] consideration" of his request to be excused if the jury "was not finished by the end of the day on Friday."

"We think it's prejudicial to us because they had deliberated for four days and might very well have reached a verdict today on the fifth day," Browne said outside court Friday.

The NFL's interest in seeing the foreman continue through Friday, meantime, was not grounded merely in civic high-mindedness.

The foreman had extensive experience on prior juries. In the questioning in March that all jurors in the Raider-NFL trial underwent, he indicated that the most important aspect to jury service is the ability to be analytical and dispassionate.

These, of course, would be precisely the qualities the NFL would want in a case in which the Raiders went on to cast themselves as victims of a corporate bullying by the NFL--a pattern, the team insists, that dates to the Raiders' defeat of the league in a 1980s lawsuit that cleared the way for the franchise to move to Los Angeles in 1982. The team played in L.A. through 1994 and claims it still owns the market for NFL football. In all, it is claiming more than $1 billion in actual damages, plus punitive damages.

Throughout the trial, the NFL has dismissed such appeals by the Raiders as unfounded and overly emotional. The NFL also has denied wrongdoing.

For their part, the Raiders filed papers early Friday with Hubbell urging the foreman's dismissal.

The foreman's note Thursday also indicated that he was not "optimistic" a verdict could be reached by Friday, although he said the jury was working "diligently."

That being the case, according to Raider lawyer Joseph M. Alioto, the team's position was that it was best as soon as possible to recast the jury, elect a new foreman and commence deliberations anew.

Alioto said after the foreman was dismissed, "I didn't want the foreman to feel he was under pressure to come to a decision today. I didn't want any other jurors to feel they were under pressure."

The foreman was replaced on the jury by a woman who had served as alternate juror No. 5. As of Friday afternoon, the jury consisted of seven men, five women.

There was no immediate indication who had been chosen as the new foreman.

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