Monday, July 28, 2008

Al's trigger happy lawsuit habit

I came across another excellent article so re-posting it here. Oh calm down Raider Nation, it's not a hater article. It's all about how Al is spending the money you throw in his direction.

Al Davis' Other Game
By Harvey Araton , New York Times
August 13, 2003

While we were getting our first titillating fix of Kobe in a courtroom last Wednesday in the Colorado mountains, a sports-related trial far less sexy but reeking of its own rapacious character was winding down that very afternoon in Sacramento.

There, a jury was sent to deliberate four months' worth of testimony in yet another lawsuit filed by the Oakland Raiders and their owner, Al Davis, the ageless rebel without a righteous cause, or clue.

Though barely a blip on the national radar, this latest Davis litigation lobbed like a 50-yard Hail Mary to the end zone amounts to an attempt to financially rape the very taxpayers who welcomed Davis back to Oakland in 1995 after he abandoned them more than a decade earlier when the Raiders slithered south for a miserable run at Los Angeles Coliseum.

Davis was lovingly embraced, but the self-styled and typically celebrated slickster claims he was conned into the move and will have lost more than $800 million in revenue and franchise value by the duration of his lease in 2010.

''He says it was fraud, but how can that be when he got all the money?'' Ignacio De La Fuente, the president of the Oakland City Council, said in a telephone interview yesterday while waiting for the jury to reach a verdict during another day of deliberation.

Eight years ago, when Davis fled the downtown Los Angeles location where he was losing his shirt, the Oakland deal lavished upon the Raiders more than $50 million in upfront money, a new training facility and several million to Davis in personal wealth, according to a person who was directly involved in the negotiations as an outside contractor.

''There were some problems because Al was moving in June and it was such a rush job,'' the person said yesterday on condition of anonymity. ''But were the Raiders defrauded? Of all the claims he's made in the suit, it's the only one the judge didn't throw out, and yet it's the most ridiculous. In so many ways, Oakland bailed him out.''

The man characterized by his lawyers as football's most innovative mind signed the deal in 1995 and an amended version one year later with no crowd guarantees. Yet Davis wasn't back long before he was arguing he could leave again by invalidating the lease, which Oakland went to court to enforce. Davis countersued and, as De La Fuente said, ''Here we are, hard to believe.''

Shouldn't be, given Oakland's first experience with Davis and his predilection for litigation. Famed for his beloved ''commitment to excellence,'' Davis's problem is with commitment to commitment.

''I think his ultimate goal is to have the right to leave again,'' De La Fuente said, and with a few hundred million in traveling money, possibly from the pockets of the people who have been paying their way into the Coliseum for the past eight years.

Defendants in the suit are two defunct parties, the Oakland Coliseum Commission and the Arthur Andersen accounting firm, along with a former commission board member, Ed DeSilva. But according to Richard Winnie, the Alameda County attorney, the city and county assets could end up in play, given a judgment for Davis.

How's that for gratitude? How's that for a feel-good summer sports story? Already, De La Fuente said, the lawsuit has drained several million from a long-troubled city buckling under the weight of a $37.5 million budget deficit this year. At the root of the suit is Davis's charge that he was promised sellouts through the execrable process of peddling personal seat licenses. Davis says Oakland officials hid information that foretold thousands of unsold tickets, but during the disputed time period, even Bay Area newspapers reported that games for the 1995 season were not sold out.

Davis's response? He didn't read the papers, nor, apparently, did anyone else in his employ.

During the trial, Davis's attorneys suggested that Oakland and Alameda County swindled the Raiders into returning so they might renovate the stadium now known as Network Associates Coliseum and keep baseball's Athletics in town -- a curious strategy considering that the pyramid-shaped monstrosity of seats erected in 1996 and now referred to as Mount Davis stole from the Coliseum its views of the Oakland hills and any baseball charm.

Whatever Davis claims, he does so with practiced conviction, with natural charm, with the flash of Super Bowl success. ''I would never underestimate his impact on a jury, the impact of celebrity,'' said the person who worked on the 1995 Oakland deal.

This can also work well in the court of news media opinion, where it is so much easier to take down the athlete who trips over his sense of entitlement, or -- as in the case of Jeremy Shockey -- a warped sense of humor. At the Super Bowl last January, Davis reveled in fawning media treatment, with few, if any, mentions of the weasel angle he was working back home. He was his swashbuckling old self, at least until his team was impaled by the Buccaneers and Jon Gruden, his ex-coach who escaped Oakland and won it all at Davis's expense.

In Tampa, this was the stuff of storybook legend. In Oakland, it could be a scheme for another end run around logic and the law.

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