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The Oakland Raiders got a crucial first down in a $1.2 billion suit against the National Football League on Wednesday when the state Supreme Court agreed to review the case for possible appellate error. The court’s unanimous decision gives the Raiders a chance to prove their contention that Los Angeles’ Second District Court of Appeal erred four months ago by reversing a trial court judge who had granted the team a new trial based on juror misconduct. The Raiders, who played football in Los Angeles for 13 years, moved back to their original Oakland home in 1995 after negotiations over a new stadium at Hollywood Park fell apart. The team sued the NFL in 1999, claiming the league had interfered in the stadium deal and had assumed control of the L.A. market without compensating the Raiders. After eight weeks of trial and deliberations in 2001, Los Angeles County jurors returned a 9-3 verdict against the Raiders. But a year later, Superior Court Judge Richard Hubbell granted the team a new trial, saying that two jurors’ actions denied the Raiders a fair trial. One juror allegedly expressed hatred for the Raiders during deliberations and vowed never to award them damages, while another — a lawyer — taped a statement of legal standards to a wall, even though they differed from Hubbell’s instructions. There was also an allegation that an alternate juror had trouble understanding English. The Second District overturned Hubbell in February, saying that he had failed to comply with Code of Civil Procedure � 657 by not providing an adequate statement of reasons for his decision. A one-sentence statement about juror misconduct, without elaborating, isn’t enough, the court held. “The specification of reasons merely restates the ground on which the new trial order was based,” Justice Kathryn Doi Todd wrote. “Moreover, it neither indicates it was the product of careful deliberation nor provides a basis for meaningful appellate review.” Doi Todd, along with Justice Roger Boren and recently retired Justice Michael Nott, then examined the evidence and found no misconduct. In their petition for review, the Raiders’ lawyers contend that the appellate justices applied the wrong standard of review. Rather than independently reviewing the evidence, they argue, the appellate court should have let Hubbell’s decision stand unless there was a “manifest and unmistakable abuse of discretion.” If appellate justices can substitute an independent standard of review for an abuse-of-discretion standard, the lawyers wrote, “diligent litigants will pay the price.” The Raiders are represented by Alameda’s Jeffrey Birren, as well as lawyers in the L.A. offices of Kaye Scholer and Arnold & Porter. The NFL’s attorneys — in Washington, D.C.’s Covington & Burling, the L.A. office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and San Jose’s Ruby & Schofield — responded by calling the Raiders’ claims “simply incorrect.” “A consistent line of cases, extending back nearly 40 years,” they wrote in court papers, “holds that, in a civil case, a defective new trial order may be affirmed only if, after independent review, the reviewing court determines that a new trial was ‘legally required.’” The NFL’s lawyers said it was “literally impossible” to determine the factual basis for Hubbell’s decision, giving the appeal court no basis to determine whether there had been an abuse of discretion. “The trial court’s omission was much more than a technical oversight,” they wrote. “Because the Raiders had attacked the integrity of three jurors, each for a different kind of alleged misconduct, the court’s failure to comply with its statutory obligation — its failure to specify any reasons for its order — rendered essentially unreviewable any purported exercise of its ‘discretion.’” The case is Oakland Raiders v. National Football League, S132814.

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