Testimony continued last week in Monterey County Superior Court in Salinas, Calif. in a trial to determine whether the city of Oakland can force the Raiders to return from Los Angeles under the power of eminent domain. That power is normally used by governments to seize real property for use as roads, parks and the like, and Oakland's efforts to invoke it to bring back the Raiders met with resistance from the team, which argued that if the city can seize a privately held sports franchise, it might do the same with, say, Kaiser Aluminum Corp., one of its biggest employers. Judge Nat A. Agliano was expected to listen to two more weeks of testimony before reaching a verdict, but attorneys for the city and the team, David Self and Moses Lasky, respectively, had already quickly gotten to the nub of the dispute.
Noting that Oakland's citizens had developed "an intense attachment" to the Raiders, Self maintained that the hypothetical situation cited by the Raiders was absurd. "People do not dance in the streets when Kaiser Aluminum turns in a good quarter," he said. "People do not go into the Kaiser Building on alternate Sundays and watch Kaiser employees battle Alcoa employees."
This prompted Lasky to ask: "A person is to have his property taken away from him because people want to dance in the streets?"
Good luck, Your Honor.
LEGAL BLUES FOR THE NHL
There would have been no thought of such an eminent domain suit on Oakland's part, of course, if the Raiders hadn't first won a federal antitrust proceeding that allowed them to move to L.A. over the NFL's objections. The NFL lost that suit—and a resulting treble-damages judgment of $50 million—even though it could argue, accurately, that the Raiders had a rabid following in Oakland and had made tons of money there.
What, then, is one to make of the federal antitrust suit that Ralston Purina Company, which owns the St. Louis Blues, filed in U.S. District Court last week against the NHL, whose board of governors had rejected the proposed sale and relocation of the team to Saskatoon. Saskatchewan? By contrast with the Raiders' situation in Oakland, the Blues, according to Ralston Purina, have lost $19 million in the six years that the firm has owned the club. Thus, the Blues may have even more justification for wanting to move than the Raiders did.
Discussing Ralston Purina's lawsuit, NHL President John A. Ziegler Jr. noted that under NHL rules the Blues' relocation required approval of three-quarters of the league's 21-member board of governors but had received only three favorable votes. "I'm not aware of anything that suggests we've not acted in accordance with our rules and regulations," Ziegler said. Just as NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle had done in the Raiders' antitrust case, Ziegler appeared to have missed the point. The issue to be resolved by the lawsuit isn't whether the NHL violated its own rules but whether it breached a more compelling set of rules: those embodied in the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890.