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A judge’s post-trial fumble has cost the Oakland Raiders a retrial in one of the biggest lawsuits in the team’s lengthy litigious history. The state Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that now-retired Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Richard Hubbell failed to comply with a state law that required him to explain his reasons for granting the Raiders a new trial in a major territorial rights suit against the National Football League. As a result, the trial jury’s original 2001 verdict against the Raiders stands. “Had the trial court supported its order granting a new trial with an adequate statement of reasons,” Justice Marvin Baxter wrote succinctly in a concurring opinion, “we would have been bound to defer to the trial court’s resolution of the factual conflicts.” “The Raiders,” he added, “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in this proceeding only because the trial court failed to comply with its �mandatory’ duty to specify the reasons for its order granting a new trial.” The ruling apparently gives the Raiders no recourse other than admitting defeat. The case began in 1995 when the Raiders � back in Oakland after a 12-year hiatus in Los Angeles � sued the NFL. Despite being based in Northern California, the team insisted it was entitled to compensation if the league ever placed another team in the L.A. area. (It hasn’t so far, and there are no prospects on the horizon.) In May 2001, jurors ruled for the NFL, but soon thereafter Judge Hubbell granted a new trial on the basis of juror misconduct. The Raiders had claimed juror Joseph Abiog showed bias by saying during deliberations he hated the Raiders and would never do anything that would benefit them financially. They also accused juror Linda Hillman, a Camarillo solo practitioner, of tainting deliberations by instructing jurors with her own version of applicable laws. In granting a retrial, Judge Hubbell said only that “the objectively ascertainable acts of juror misconduct were prejudicial to the Oakland Raiders’ right to a fair trial.” Los Angeles’ Second District Court of Appeal reversed in February 2005, calling Hubbell’s order deficient because it didn’t comply with state Code of Civil Procedure 657′s requirement that judges must clearly explain each reason for granting new trials. The Supreme Court agreed. “The reviewing court should not, in a situation such as that presented here, defer to the trial court’s resolution of conflicts in evidence, or draw all inferences favorably to the trial court’s decision,” Justice Joyce Kennard wrote, “because in the absence of a statement of reasons, the record does not show whether the trial court resolved those conflicts or drew those inferences.” Kennard ruled that the judge’s failure to state his reason for granting a new trial placed the burden of proving juror misconduct on the Raiders. The team, she said, failed to do so. “The Raiders alleged that juror Joseph [Abiog] was biased and that juror Linda [Hillman] committed misconduct,” Kennard wrote. “Because the trial court did not file a statement of reasons underlying its conclusion of jury misconduct, we do not know whether the trial court’s ruling was based on the bias of Joseph �, the misconduct of Linda � or both.” The Raiders’ appellate lawyer, Larry Feldman, special counsel in Kaye Scholer’s Los Angeles office, didn’t return a telephone call. But Jeffrey Birren, the Raiders’ general counsel, said that Monday’s ruling “is incomprehensible and punishes the Raiders.” “The judge who oversaw the trial between the NFL and the Raiders found there were overt acts of misconduct and ordered a new trial,” he said. “The Supreme Court ruled that because the judge failed to insert a couple of extra words of explanation in his order the Raiders should be denied a new trial.” Gregg Levy, the principal outside counsel for the NFL, expressed satisfaction with the ruling. “This should enable the parties to focus their attention on the game rather than the law,” he said, “and that’s where their attention should be focused.” Levy, a partner in Washington, D.C.’s Covington & Burling, also said Judge Hubbell’s error shouldn’t be overemphasized. “There’s no question that the order the judge entered was defective,” he said. “But we shouldn’t forget that there was a jury in this case and the jury said quite squarely that the Raiders’ allegations had no merit.” Hubbell, who has since left the bench, didn’t return a telephone call seeking comment. The ruling is The Oakland Raiders v. National Football League (Tagliabue), 07 C.D.O.S. 7828.

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