|Monday, April 14
How to win friends and influence juries
By Ray Ratto
Monday was Groundhog Day at Al Davis' house, which means he came out the front door, saw a court date and a lawyer, and thereby signaled the beginning of spring.
We haven't seen much of Al since Super Bowl Sunday, when Jon Gruden inserted his foot deep inside Raider Nation and kept it there for the world to see. Al did attend the owners' meetings in Phoenix in March, but otherwise kept in training for his latest lawsuit, which began Monday in picturesque Sacramento.
This lawsuit, filed against the city of Oakland and Alameda County, claims that the government officials who brought the Raiders back to Oakland in 1995 hoodwinked him with fraudulent promises of sellouts which rarely materialized.
The city and county, on the other hand, claim that Al is suing to get out of his lease, and wasn't promised anything of the sort.
At stake? As much as a hair over $1.1 billion.
Your interest? Well ...
Al is trying to break a one-lawsuit losing streak with an asterisk, having been beaten by the NFL only to have the verdict vacated by charges of jury misconduct (it seems one member of the jury made it clear he would no more vote for Al than he would dip himself in paint and offer himself as a highway flare). That lawsuit has $1.2 billion in play.
Thus, the league has a significant rooting interest in seeing the city and county win, because a verdict against the Raiders could only help the NFL in its next Al-fest, while a verdict for Al could only hurt.
And we haven't even gotten into the league's "Anyone who beats Al is our pal" voting bloc. The idea of Al, Billionaire Free Agent, frankly causes Paul Tagliabue's boxers to self-adjust upward with considerable speed and torque, if you know what we mean, and we suspect you do.
But as is usually the case with an Al lawsuit, there is enough thigh-slapping, commode-hugging cabaret to keep the tedious legal stuff from bogging down.
The city and county are being lawyered by John Brosnahan, who has had tougher cases in his day -- say, the American Taliban member John Walker Lindh. Al is not being lawyered by Joe Alioto, who led the team to defeat against the NFL and is now off lawyering for someone else.
Then there is the argument over the future worth of the Raiders.
Al says the lack of sellouts will cost him $728 million, and lower the value of the franchise by $380 million by 2015. The city and county claim the Raiders already have received $38 million in dividends, and that the franchise value will grow by $500 million by the time the lease expires in 2010.
In other words, there's a hypothetical couch somewhere that's got roughly a billion dollars in loose change that these two sides are fighting over, and all we know is that by 2010, Rich Gannon, Jerry Rice and Tim Brown will still be under contract.
And finally, there is the simple vision of Al in a suit rather than his traditional garb -- the slightly droopy track suit. We won't say he is a snappy dresser, because "snappy" is a subjective term, but he is a shiny dresser. In fact, we suspect he has a mirrored suit somewhere in his closet, in case (a) disco returns, or (b) he needs to blind someone during cross-examination.
This last one remains the best show of all, because Al does not just sit there looking like Al. He looks like he is trying to send signals into other people's brains, and in some cases, those other people can hear those signals. You often wonder why people don't enter a room that contains Al while wearing aluminum foil hats.
He may be up against stiffer opposition this time, though, since he has to portray the political elite of Oakland and Alameda County as a pack of evil geniuses, an extraordinary stretch even for a busload of 14-year-old gymnasts.
These are the people who (a) actively sought Al, who was fool enough to have left Oakland in the first place, (b) signed a deal so lopsided in the Raiders' favor that the city and county will be hemorrhaging money for years, and (c) is about to lose control of its school district for fiscal bungling on a staggering scale.
In short, these are people who could not meet in closed session to open a bag of cat food that has already been opened. The Raider lawyers will have to make them seem like positive masterminds. They'll need all their Sam Waterston-inspired skills to pull that off.
Thus, the entertainment has been organized, the stag set, and most folks figure a two-month run, minimum. Al in the courtroom again -- the great ones never forget.
And yes, we can wait if you need a minute to go fashion yourselves a tinfoil hat.
Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com