Last month NBC 7 SportsWrap reported about a potential lawsuit brought by Chargers fans that would attempt to keep the franchise in San Diego. Looks like the people who hatched the idea were serious.
As a quick recap, a group of Bolts fans, with guidance from former City Attorney Mike Aguirre, came up with the idea to file a lawsuit against the NFL and the Chargers on antitrust grounds.
Dan Jauregui, one of the main proponents of this course of action (and also the man in the Boltman suit), recently made it official, filing a demand letter with the San Diego City Attorney’s Office formally asking the city to file a lawsuit to, as Jauregui says, protect the rights of San Diego citizens.
“This can be a big game changer all around,” said Jauregui. “In short, this move for the Chargers to LA will never happen not as long as we fans can legally put a stop to it as we intend to. There is strength in numbers. United We Stand.”
The entire letter can be read below.
The office of City Attorney Jan Goldsmith accepted the letter. Their response is not what supporters of a lawsuit want to hear. Here is their statement, released to NBC 7SportsWrap:
“The City is not planning to file an anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL and Chargers. In 2006, the City of San Diego agreed in an amended lease that the Chargers may relocate after the 2008 season outside of San Diego under certain conditions and further agreed to waive any claim the City might otherwise have based upon such a relocation.”
That amendment has been quoted several times as a reason the city has no grounds for taking legal action against the Chargers for leaving the city of San Diego, including the Chargers themselves.
“Our lease clearly prohibits such a lawsuit,” said Chargers Special Counsel Mark Fabiani.
However, one of the men involved in negotiating that amendment said it does not allow the Bolts to head to Los Angeles.
“There was no offer by the city back in 2007 to build a stadium,” said former City Attorney Mike Aguirre. “That’s why they were given the chance to shop the team elsewhere.”
Aguirre says “elsewhere” means places like Chula Vista and Oceanside, but not outside San Diego County. So the former city attorney would like to have a sit-down chat with the current city attorney to clear things up a bit.
“I’m not sure that’s going to be the city attorney’s final position once he understands the context in which that agreement was negotiated,” said Aguirre. “The only thing we agreed to was to let them shop the team around. We certainly were not releasing them (from San Diego County). I’m puzzled by why they have not called me to talk about it.”
Now, if this sounds like the same old in-fighting we’ve grown accustomed to in this stadium situation, let me introduce you to the Wild Card: James Quinn, partner at Weil, Gotshal & Manges. A couple of weeks ago Jauregui called Quinn to ask if he’d be interested in helping the case.
“I’d be happy to represent a responsible group that wants to challenge what the NFL and the Chargers are doing,” said Quinn in an interview with NBC 7 SportsWrap.
Quinn has successfully sued the NFL on anti-trust grounds multiple times. The most famous came when he served as the lead counsel for the NFL players in their successful antitrust challenge to the player restrictions in the League (a case known as McNeil v. NFL). Quinn tried the case, effectively giving NFL players the right to free agency.
In fact, The New York Times labeled Mr. Quinn’s participation at trial as “instrumental in helping change the face of major professional sports.” If the NFL sees Quinn coming at them, they know they have a fight on their hands.
“We’re not always on the greatest terms,” said Quinn.
Mention of Quinn’s name got Aguirre almost giddy.
“Mike Aguirre can tell you what he thinks about the anti-trust laws. Jan Goldsmith can tell you what he thinks about the anti-trust laws. But you just talked to The Man,” said Aguirre. “He is the man that I would hope and pray that we can get him here to save our team.”
Quinn looked at what is going on in San Diego. Now that the local government has provided a legitimate plan for a new stadium, or at least a good starting point for good-faith negotiations, he believes winning an anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL and Chargers is a real possibility.
“The league is made up of separate companies, which is why you can bring a Sherman Act case, because they are acting collusively together to benefit the Chargers and the league and all of its members,” said Quinn. “It is the city that is, essentially, the victim of what’s going on.
“Whenever the NFL acts they’re acting jointly in their own interests. In this case they seem to be threatening the city of San Diego: ‘Either do what we want, as a group, or we’re going to boycott the city of San Diego. We’re going to let this team leave and you’ll probably not get another one.’ Under those circumstances it would appear the city may well have claims under the anti-trust laws.”
“The NFL is going to take it seriously,” said Aguirre. “We have supported the Chargers for 50 years. We have a plan on the table. They can’t just ignore the anti-trust laws and say bye-bye.”
What is the Chargers’ reaction to all of this? Basically, they don’t think an anti-trust lawsuit would ever make it to court because the city has not yet truly committed to a new stadium. That view comes, in large part, because the city has yet to commit to a full-blown Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for a stadium build, which is a non-starter for any billion-dollar facility.
“Such a lawsuit would be meritless,” said Fabiani, “both because no judge will view the city’s proposal for a quickie EIR is in any way reasonable and because we’ve made nine separate proposals over 14 years to try and find a solution.”
The Chargers’ previous attempts to get a stadium done in San Diego would be brought in to evidence if a lawsuit is undertaken.
If the Chargers fan base, with allies like Aguirre, does attempt to talk the current local government in to changing its mind and pursuing the potential lawsuit, there is also the issue of who pays the legal fees for Quinn’s assistance. That would most likely be the city of San Diego or a private group of fans.
On Monday San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer spoke with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. You can read what the talked about below.