'I feel sorry for him'
Class-action suit seeks $6.4 million in damages
CLEVELAND (AP) -- Art Modell's new team is in the Super Bowl and his lawyers argued Tuesday that the Baltimore Ravens owner should now be rid of a suit brought by those pesky Cleveland fans, who are still mad the old Browns left town.
A judge did not say when he would rule on an effort by the Ravens to throw out the fans' lawsuit, which is scheduled to go to trial March 19 in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court.
Season-ticket holders originally sued Modell on the same day -- Nov. 6, 1995 -- that he announced he was moving the Browns to Baltimore. The case has been kicking around the legal system ever since.
The Browns fans accuse Modell of misleading them by saying publicly he would never move the team while he was privately arranging to bolt from Cleveland. Modell also deprived fans of the right of first refusal to buy 1996 season tickets, the lawsuit says.
The class-action suit is on behalf of 11,000 Cleveland season-ticket holders for 1995, who controlled about 39,000 seats at the old Cleveland Municipal Stadium. They are seeking $6.4 million in damages, said their attorney, Joshua Cohen.
Having the chance to keep good seats for upcoming years is a big part of the reason to get season tickets in the first place, said Michael Saltzman, a season-ticket holder for 29 years, who had 40-yard line seats when Modell left.
Saltzman bought season tickets for the new Browns, who returned to the NFL in 1999 under the ownership of former Modell partner Al Lerner, but they're back on the 20-yard line.
"I think he [Modell] committed fraud," said Saltzman, who watched the hour-long hearing before Judge Kenneth Callahan on Tuesday.
Ravens lawyers asked Callahan to rule on the case in their favor before it ever goes to trial. They said it's clear Modell and others indicated the Browns could move if negotiations on a new stadium or renovations fell through.
"We clearly don't think there was any fraud by Mr. Modell," Modell attorney Mark Gately said after the hearing. "We think the evidence shows that."
Gately also denied 1995 season-ticket holders had first rights to season tickets the following year.
He called the fans' request for punitive damages 'outrageous.' He said the season-ticket holders were using laws meant for much more serious cases, like when people are exposed to asbestos, to try and win money for football seats.
But Cohen said most of those arguments were a rehash of things Modell's lawyers have brought up before unsuccessfully. If the fans win the suit, he said, it will be the first time a class of season-ticket holders has ever recovered damages from a pro sports franchise and "the Browns/Ravens are having trouble accepting this."
Saltzman, meanwhile, can't believe that Modell -- still the most vilified person in Cleveland -- is finally in a position to win the Super Bowl title the Browns never got.
"Actually, I feel sorry for him," Saltzman said. "His reaction to winning -- he didn't know what to do on the dais in Oakland" when the Ravens beat the Raiders 16-3 in Sunday's AFC championship.