The boating rivalry, as you may recall from our previous, exhaustive coverage, pits the defending champ, Alinghi, sponsored by the Swiss-based Societe Nautique de Geneve, against an American contender, the Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC), which sponsors the BMW-Oracle team. (Basically, it’s billionaire versus billionaire: Alinghi is controlled by Swiss biotech whiz Ernesto Bertarelli; BMW-Oracle by Larry Ellison.)
Earlier this month, the New York Court of Appeals found that Alinghi was wrong to accept a challenge from Club Nautico Espanol de Vela, a Spanish team that had formed as a club just days before submitting its challenge. The Court ordered Alinghi to schedule a race with GGYC to begin in ten months, which would be February 2010. We had hoped, fervently, that the ruling by New York’s highest court would be the end of the big boat litigation.
No such luck. Alinghi said that the race should be held in May 2010, which prompted GGYC to file a contempt motion against Alinghi. “By forcing litigation over our rightful challenge, they have already managed to delay the match from July 2008 to February 2010,” GGYC spokesman Tom Ehman said in a statement, as reported by Reuters. “Now they seek another three-month delay, in defiance of the court’s clear mandate. Enough is enough.”
Alinghi’s lawyers at Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett, meanwhile, argue that event rules require Northern Hemisphere-based races to be conducted during the spring and summer months to avoid bad weather. They say the delay is simply to honor that rule. Simpson partner Barry Ostrager contends Alinghi tried to discuss scheduling with GGYC, but the challenger filed a contempt complaint instead. “GGYC’s true intent is to continue to wage a litigation and public relations war against SNG, even if it must do so by manufacturing baseless charges of wrongdoing,” Alinghi says in its memorandum of law opposing GGYC’s motion for contempt.
So far, just more unnecessary legal nastiness, right? Well, here’s where it gets weird. Alinghi says that GGYC hired “a team of agents” to “illegally spy on and try to secure information about” the boat it is designing and constructing under top-secret conditions on Lake Geneva. In an affidavit accompanying its memorandum of law, Alinghi released a French police document in which an employee of BMW Oracle Racing admits gathering information about the boat the Swiss are secretly building. It’s like a James Bond movie, except with billion-dollar boats instead of nuclear weaponry!
We left a message Wednesday afternoon with James Kearney of Latham & Watkins, who has represented GGYC in the past. We will update this story if he gets back to us. But as much as we love a good legal drama–especially when it involves espionage and French police–we find ourselves wanting to see this thing settled on the water. Head-to-head. Or hull-to-hull. Whatever; we’re not racing sailors. But definitely on a boat. Please.