San Jose’s Growing Pile of Baseball Lawsuits

Angry Owner

How much of a mess has Lew Wolff’s 15-year-obsession with moving the A’s become?

Answer: There are not one, not two, but THREE lawsuits involving the city of San Jose over Wolff’s attempts to move the A’s.

And, like all messes, we’re left not with answers resolving the situation, rather only with more questions. Here’s a lingering question: How much are San Jose taxpayers paying to foot the legal bills for all of these lawsuits? Hopefully, one day we get an answer to that.

Until then, here’s the list of lawsuits: 1) In late 2011, a group called Stand for San Jose filed a lawsuit against the City of San Jose, claiming it failed to perform a proper environmental review of land committed to Lew Wolff and the A’s. The suit was filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court. Stand for San Jose told the Associated Press at the time: “In the midst of its 11th consecutive budget deficit, San Jose politicians rushed to sell prime downtown land for only $6.9 million, even though it was acquired for $25 million…”

2) That case was meandering through the court system when, about two weeks ago, the Mercury News reported that Stand for San Jose filed a second complaint in Santa Clara County. The second complaint seeks to challenge San Jose’s transfer of ballpark land back to San Jose’s redevelopment “successor agency,” which they did in June. This suit, like the 2011 one, is tied to the downtown San Jose land that Wolff and the A’s have an option to buy at the price of $6.9 million. But the lawsuit notes that the state controller says that that land now is actually worth $29 million. Thus, the Mercury News reports, the lawsuit argues that by encumbering the land with the option agreement between Wolff’s A’s and San Jose, the city is devaluing the property by $22 million — or, $29 million minus $6.9 million.

It’s possible that both lawsuits will be combined into one, but there will be no progress until November, when the first lawsuit is scheduled for a hearing.

3) The biggest legal move, of course, came in June, when San Jose filed an antitrust lawsuit vs. MLB. San Jose’s lawsuit is being led by Joe Cotchett, a well-known Bay Area trial attorney. The lawsuit’s main argument is that MLB is an unlawful monopoly that’s preventing the A’s from moving to San Jose and — so the argument goes — that has caused San Jose financial harm.

Last week, MLB fired back, as San Francisco attorney John Keker filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that a San Jose court victory “would lead to absurd results: every time a franchise contemplated relocation, MLB would be subjected to suits from any city that desires a team and from any city that does not want to lose a team.”

A few pundits, such as Stanford’s Roger Noll and ESPN’s Lester Munson, have said the lawsuit has merit. But most sports economists and legal analysts have called the suit a “Hail Mary” play, saying they expect Judge Ronald Whyte to toss it out in October. NBCSports.com’s Craig Calcaterra has been the most strident critic, saying that that the city can point to “…no damages. San Jose has no standing.” In a separate article, he wrote, “The suit is not anything that should pass legal muster here, and I believe it will go down in flames.”

Even San Jose boosters agree that Cotchett’s lawsuit against MLB is something of a Hail Mary. The good news for Wolff and his cronies is that, every once in a great while Hail Mary plays pay off.  Of course, most of the time, they’re born of desperation and don’t pay off. That’s why they’re called Hail Mary plays.

The sad thing is, here we are in the middle of a great pennant race between our A’s and the Rangers for the second year in a row. And instead of talking about that, we’re talking about attorneys and lawsuits. Is that any way to sell tickets?

Judge Whyte might make his ruling about the antitrust lawsuit on Oct. 4, which would be the first Friday of MLB’s postseason. When it comes to October baseball, all we want to focus on is A’s baseball and its rich postseason legacy. It’s just too bad we don’t have an A’s owner who feels the same way.

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