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Padres Get Help From Bench in Ballpark Suit

January 12, 2002|TONY PERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — Spring training is more than a month away, but sports litigation--a year-round activity here--was in midseason form Friday.

Superior Court Judge Kevin Enright sided with the City Council and the owners of the San Diego Padres baseball team against a retired University of San Diego law professor who has sued to block the city from selling $170 million worth of bonds to help build a downtown ballpark for the team.

Enright ruled that he, not a jury, will decide the issues brought up in the lawsuit filed by Bob Simmons. A hearing was set for Jan. 28.

Simmons had sought a jury trial, but the city and the Padres argued that because it would take months to schedule such a proceeding, a jury trial would further delay construction of the ballpark. The project is already two years behind schedule because of a series of lawsuits.

"With your ruling, we have cast due process aside for the financial convenience of the city of San Diego," said Simmons' attorney, Stanley Zubel.

Enright said he was influenced, in part, by a statement from the Padre organization that the cost of the park is increasing $1 million a month while construction remains halted. The project was shut down 14 months ago when the city declined to advance additional funds to the Padres until the bonds were sold.

Leslie Devaney, executive assistant to City Atty. Casey Gwinn, said city officials "look forward to having the case thrown out" Jan. 28. "This is being pushed to the limit of everyone's patience," she said.

City officials and Padre management had thought the project was back on track after the council voted 8 to 1 on Nov. 20 to sell the bonds. That optimism was premature.

Simmons sued soon after the vote, saying details of the public-private partnership were different enough from a 1998 ballot measure endorsed by 60% of the voters that a second public ballot should be required.

Faced with yet more litigation, the city benched its plan to sell the bonds.

Fourteen other lawsuits--including eight involving former council member turned full-time gadfly Bruce Henderson--had delayed the city's plan to sell the bonds to finance its 70% share of the project, which includes a 42,500-seat ballpark and surrounding commercial development. The city and the Padres prevailed in all 14 lawsuits, but two are on appeal.

The Padres, in the legal equivalent of a brushback pitch, have sued to block Henderson from being able to file any additional suits.

The Padres' suit asks a judge to rule that Henderson has abused the legal process by becoming a "serial litigator."

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