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Jim Jensen earned the nickname “Crash” for his aggressive play on the football field while a rookie with the Miami Dolphins. Now, Jensen is suiting up for a much different battle: This one is over his name, reputation and money he says he’s owed by a now-defunct football league. At the core of this fight is a lawsuit Jensen filed last year in Miami-Dade Circuit Court against the Spring Football League, owner of the Miami Tropics, where Jensen served as coach and general manager for less than a year. He also sued the Tropics; league owner and president of the Tropics, Mark Rice, and his two companies, Primex Capital, a Houston-based private investment firm; and Sierra Grill, a five-star Texas restaurant, both of which helped to finance the league. The suit alleges that the league breached its contract with Jensen and committed fraud. The league’s four-game season, which began in April 2000, ended after just two games and dismal attendance. Jensen, who was hired in 1999 and who was promised “a pretty good salary,” stuck around until July 2000, when he says he realized there would be no second season. According to court documents, Jensen was to be paid $70,000 in salary plus $30,000 in marketable securities, the origin of which wasn’t made clear. On Aug. 27, Jensen’s lawyer, David Maher, an associate at Harke & Clasby in Miami, is scheduled to ask the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami to send Jensen’s suit back to a Miami trial court so a jury can decide the case. The request follows a February ruling by Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Barbara Levenson that Jensen’s case would not go to trial. She sided with the defense, which argued that Jensen’s contract required him to take his dispute to arbitration. Jensen got involved with the Spring Football League in 1999 when Rice approached him about coaching the Tropics. Jensen agreed to recruit players and went through training camp before the season kicked off in April 2000. The former special teams player and backup quarterback spent 11 years with the Dolphins before he was let go in 1992. Later, he spent several years playing and coaching arena football. Jensen contends Rice used the player’s notoriety and pro ball connections to get the league on its feet. Jensen lured former Dolphin defensive star Hugh Green to oversee the defense. He hired former Dolphin running back Lorenzo Hampton as offensive coordinator. Jensen also brought in former Dolphins Larry Little and Dwight Stephenson — both NFL Hall of Famers — to promote the Tropics. “Both were promised by [Mark] Rice to get a percentage of the team,” Jensen said in an interview from his home in Plantation, Fla. He is on hiatus from coaching the Florida Firecats, an entry in the Arena Football League 2. Jensen said the promises never materialized. He says he hasn’t spoken to either of them since and doesn’t know if they plan to sue. Jensen says he even convinced the city of Miami to allow the Tropics to play in the Orange Bowl. “I put myself out on a limb and then I was faced with the players not getting paid and the sponsors getting screwed and the vendors getting screwed.” A PSEUDONYM When Maher goes before the 3rd District Court of Appeal later this month, he will argue that the arbitration clause in Jensen’s contract, which Levenson relied upon in her order, is limited and “doesn’t govern any of the counts in this complaint.” He says that the clause is full of holes, including a provision that requires that arbitration take place outside of Florida. “Established Florida law holds that a foreign arbitration venue provision makes the arbitration agreement voidable,” wrote Maher in his brief to the appellate court. Even if the league tried to enforce the clause, Maher argues that Rice, Primex Capital and Sierra Grill have no standing because they are not parties to the employment agreement. “Rice merely signed the employment agreement as president of Miami Tropics, and not in his individual capacity,” wrote Maher in his brief. How the other side feels about all of this is unknown. It has not filed an answer to Maher’s appellate brief. Instead, on June 27, the Spring Football League filed for Chapter 7 liquidation in Houston. However, it did so under the pseudonym Xeeiotz Systems LLC in what Maher says appears to have been an effort by Rice not only to hide the fact that the league was going belly up, but also to avoid having to deal with any litigation filed against it. “It is my understanding that Mark Rice never wanted to have any of his companies file for bankruptcy. This would hide the fact that the football league filed for bankruptcy,” Maher said. Calls to Rice’s Houston office were not returned. But Craig Cavalier, the Houston bankruptcy attorney who filed the Chapter 7 case on behalf of Xeeiotz, supports one of Maher’s suspicions. “It’s my impression that all lawsuits and actions are stayed under the provision of the bankruptcy code. Normally, the automatic stay stops any litigation in which the debtor is a party,” Cavalier said in an interview earlier this week. However, he said he was unaware of the Jensen lawsuit and could not comment on it. But Maher says Cavalier’s argument doesn’t wash. “Mark Rice hasn’t declared bankruptcy, Primex Capital hasn’t declared bankruptcy, Sierra Grill hasn’t filed for bankruptcy,” said Maher. “[Cavalier] is only correct with respect to the Spring Football League.” Maher is baffled by Rice’s failure to answer his complaint. “I have never seen a victorious party not respond,” he said. “It’s rare when you have the person who wants to uphold a favorable ruling not making an effort to uphold it.” The 3rd District Court of Appeal has issued an order noting that Rice’s failure to file an answer brief now precluded him and his companies from filing one at this late date and from presenting oral argument on Aug. 27.

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