Raiders score partial victory in suit

 The Oakland Raiders scored a partial victory in court Tuesday, as a jury awarded the team $34.2 million and found Oakland coliseum officials had acted negligently when negotiating to bring the team back from Los Angeles by promising a packed stadium.

The verdict in the team's suit was far less than the $570 million to $833 million it sought to compensate for low ticket sales and the declining value of the franchise by 2010 when the contract expires.

Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, its chief negotiator Ed DeSilva and the now-defunct Arthur Andersen accounting firm were accused with intentionally misleading the team. The coliseum also faced charges of negligent misrepresentation and breach of good faith in negotiating.

The Sacramento County Superior Court jury ruled the coliseum had acted negligently, but said none of the defendants intentionally misrepresented ticket sales.

The loser was expected to appeal the verdict reached after nearly three weeks of jury deliberations. The nine women and three men heard nearly four months of testimony from 45 witnesses and had more than 600 pieces of evidence to consider.

The case dates back to 1995 as Raiders owner Al Davis maneuvered to get his team out of Southern California after revenues waned, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum's foundation was shaken by an earthquake and a deal collapsed to build a new stadium at a horse track.

The 74-year old Davis testified for six days and said he was partly motivated to return to Oakland for sentimental reasons: he got his first professional head coaching job there in 1963 and the team played there until he moved south in 1982.

His primary reason, however, was money. Davis said coliseum officials promised a sold-out stadium. The defense, however, pointed out that no guarantees were written in the 190 pages of contracts he signed. Davis said he had a verbal agreement and that he couldn't get promises in writing after a citizen revolt jettisoned a deal to return in 1990 because it promised $38 million a year in revenue for the team.

The deal gave the Raiders a $53 million loan, $10 million for a training complex and $100 million to renovate the coliseum, which is shared with the Oakland Athletics.

The defense, which said team owners got richer by moving to Oakland, said Davis was told by a number of officials that the stadium was not sold out when he signed the pact on Aug. 7, 1995.

In order to buy season tickets, fans had to pay between $250 and $4,000 for the 10-year license to those seats.

But sales were not as brisk as expected and optimistic news of sellouts was overshadowed later by word that about 10 percent of applications failed when checks bounced or credit cards were rejected.

A key piece of evidence in the Raiders case was a press release issued by the coliseum weeks before the deal was inked announcing the stadium had been sold out for the upcoming season and most of 1996. The Raiders lawyer claimed the coliseum knew the claim was a lie, but kept the true figures hidden from Davis.

The defense, however, pointed out that the figures at the time were accurate because deposits for seats had not been rejected for lack of payment and the release indicated that mid-priced seats were still available. They also criticized Davis, a savvy businessman, for relying on press releases, which he acknowledged were sometimes promotional "puff.''

Numerous news accounts based on the release pointed out that the tickets had not sold out, but Davis and other team officials said they never saw those reports.

The coliseum's lawyer also said any box office flop should be partly blamed on high ticket prices and some poor performances on the field, including the team's abysmal 4-12 season in its third season after returning, the worst since the year Davis took over 40 years ago.

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