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Davis Says False Promises Lured Raiders to Oakland

June 27, 2003|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Wearing a black suit, a silver tie, a Super Bowl ring and a smile that at times appeared forced, Raider owner Al Davis took the witness stand Thursday in his team's $1-billion lawsuit against the city of Oakland and enlivened an otherwise staid Superior courtroom.

With the proceeding packed with reporters and onlookers, and dozens of people waiting outside the door -- the ones who arrived too late to claim one of the 22 seats available to the public -- Davis described his rise from college assistant coach to NFL team owner. Two sentences into his testimony he invoked his catchphrase, "commitment to excellence," and he later talked of the "devastation" of losing this year's Super Bowl.

"I had a vision, I had a dream that someday I would build the finest organization in professional sports," he told the nine-woman, three-man jury. "That's where I was headed."

Davis claims he was lured back to Oakland on the false promise of a sold-out stadium; Oakland officials say he concocted that claim to get out of a lease that runs through 2010.

"This case is about a 190-page written contract that was signed by one of the people who knows more about football than anybody in the whole world that covered every contingency," Oakland attorney Jim Brosnahan said. "And when the deal started to look bad, the Raiders decided that somebody had said something to them sometime that was a problem."

Davis says that a lack of sellouts will cost the Raiders $728 million and reduce the value of the franchise by $380 million by 2015. Named in the suit are the Oakland Coliseum, the Arthur Andersen accounting firm and Ed DeSilva, chief negotiator on the deal that led the Raiders to move from Los Angeles to Oakland after the 1994 season.

"There were representations and commitments made to us that we had a sold-out stadium, [personal seat licenses], suites," Davis said outside the courtroom. "They understand that the lifeblood of an organization is the revenue streams that you generate with a stadium. That was the only reason that the Raiders signed an agreement to come back to Oakland.

"They lied to the community, they lied to the press, they lied to the Raider fans, they lied to the Raiders, and they lied to the taxpayers."

Calling those claims absurd, city officials blame the team's financial woes on its poor performance on the field throughout the late 1990s. They point out the Raiders decided to sue in 1997, only after its worst season since 1962.

In addition to suing Oakland, Davis has a $1.2-billion lawsuit pending against the NFL over the rights to the L.A. market. The Raiders lost that trial in 2001 but were awarded a new trial -- one that has yet to be scheduled -- because of juror misconduct.

Raider attorney Roger Dreyer said it's wrong to assume the Raiders are merely trying to get out of their Oakland Coliseum lease with an eye on L.A. A judge has already ruled the team cannot back out of its lease.

"This case is not about the Raiders leaving," he said. "It's about damages."

Davis testified for about two hours Thursday afternoon, answering Dreyer's questions about the early years of his football career. The Raider owner took the stand after Ezra Rapport, Oakland's assistant city manager when the Raider deal was signed. Both sides said it's likely Davis will be testifying for most of next week. The trial resumes Monday afternoon.

Brosnahan, who defended the so-called American Taliban soldier John Walker Lindh, clearly annoyed Davis by lodging repeated objections questioning the relevance of the owner's meandering answers. Davis would stop mid-word at an objection, slowly turn in the direction of Brosnahan and either grimace or force a chuckle.

"Brosnahan is so enjoying the theater aspect of this and he wants to perform," Dreyer said. "It's a great stage for him."

But Brosnahan blamed Dreyer for the slow pace of the trial, which began April 14 and was expected to last about two months.

"Roger is an excellent lawyer, but he does take an awful long time," Brosnahan said.

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