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The $1 billion battle over the Raiders’ return to Oakland, Calif., began with a pun and ended with a fumble Monday as powerhouse attorneys squared off in front of jurors for the first time. The pun was made by Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Richard Park as he prepared the 12 jurors and three alternates for a trial that he expects to last at least two months. Sidebars, Park told jurors, were “not to hide the ball from you, but to make a decision in court.” The fumble came from defense attorney James Brosnahan, whom the judge dinged for mentioning to jurors an earlier phase of the litigation. It might be an understandable error given the legal tangle between Oakland and the Raiders. The trial stems from a 1997 suit filed by the city of Oakland and the county of Alameda over fears that the Raiders football team, freshly moved from Los Angeles to the East Bay, would try to get out of its 15-year lease. The matter now before jurors, though, is the Raiders’ countersuit, alleging that negotiators fraudulently reported ticket sales in order to persuade the franchise to return to Oakland — the city the team had left a decade earlier. Although the claim against Oakland and Alameda County will be handled in arbitration, taxpayers could eventually shell out damages if the Raiders win at the Sacramento trial. That’s because those public entities indemnified their chief negotiator, politically connected Dublin businessman Edwin DeSilva. Any light moments created by Park’s opening pun evaporated when the Raiders’ lead trial attorney, Roger Dreyer, who is managing partner at Dreyer, Babich, Buccola & Callaham in Sacramento, began an opening statement that went on for 3 1/2 hours. “This case … deals with what is true, what is false. It deals with representations that were made that were false,” Dreyer said. He appeared well aware that if he wants a chance at winning, he’s going to have to keep things simple. Outside court, Dreyer pointed out that 10 of the jurors are women, “not football fans.” He said he wants them to think about business, not sports. Inside court, Dreyer stood in front of a large screen displaying a complex, animated PowerPoint presentation. Using timelines, blowups of documents and photographs, Dreyer walked jurors through a quick history of the Raiders before leading a more detailed lesson in sports franchise economics. The Raiders allege the defendants made fraudulent and negligent misrepresentations and breached good faith and fair dealing. The heart of the case is the negotiators’ portrayal of personal seat licenses (PSLs), a ticketing scheme where people buy the right to purchase season tickets for a decade at a time. When used as part of a marketing plan, PSLs can be very lucrative for teams, guaranteeing stadium sellouts for years at a time, according to sports marketing experts. Dreyer also alleged the defendants were motivated by desperation. Because the Oakland A’s baseball and Golden State Warriors basketball teams were threatening to leave, negotiators were willing to say anything to get the Raiders to move back to Oakland, he said. Dreyer said negotiators told the Raiders that PSLs sold out in 1995, the year the team signed its new lease. But the PSLs weren’t working. In fact, the Raiders allege negotiators so badly flubbed the marketing that they damaged the team’s ability to make money for the rest of the lease. The lease runs until 2010. The Raiders say they would never have signed such a long lease if they knew the reality of ticket sales. After Dreyer, DeSilva’s attorney, Morrison & Foerster partner Brosnahan, got up to tell a different story. “What is this about fraud, and what will the evidence show?” Brosnahan asked in a chatty, down-home style. “There’s so much to talk to you about, you can tell I don’t know what to tell you first.” He explained the two main thrusts of his defense. First, he said the Raiders knew the true status of the ticket sales. Also, the Raiders signed a very detailed, 190-page document that said nothing about guaranteed sellouts, Brosnahan said. “And now they come years later. ‘Oh, they said something to us about it being sold out and we want hundreds of millions of dollars,’” Brosnahan said while holding up a copy of the document. Part of his strategy appears to be trying to portray the Raiders and team owner Al Davis as greedy. The fumble came about half an hour into Brosnahan’s talk, when he violated one of the motions in limine by bringing up the Raiders’ earlier attempts to get out of their Oakland lease. Out of the jury’s presence, Dreyer objected. Judge Park agreed but said he wasn’t sure that admonishing the jury to ignore it was the best cure. Park said he would rather the attorneys just move on with the openings. Also named in the case as defendants are the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, which also is represented by San Francisco-based Morrison & Foerster and Brosnahan, and troubled accounting firm Arthur Andersen, which is represented by Stan Roman of San Francisco’s Krieg, Keller, Sloan, Reilley & Roman and Frederick Fields of San Francisco’s Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass. The Raiders have calculated a range of compensatory damages from $450 million to more than $1 billion. The case is City of Oakland v. Oakland Raiders, 97AS06708.

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