Antitrust Suit against Bengals, NFL Slowed by Internal Strife

Apr 24, 2004

An internal squabble has leaked into the courts, potentially delaying an Ohio county’s legal claim that the NFL and the Cincinnati Bengals strong-armed it into signing a lease that would allow the Bengals to play at Paul Brown Stadium at favorable terms to the Bengals and the NFL.
Specifically, Hamilton County (Ohio) Prosecutor Mike Allen has joined another governmental official in challenging the county’s decision to pay a high-profile attorney on a contingency basis to represent it in their federal anti-trust case against the NFL and the Bengals.
Allen objected to the use of class-action attorney Stan Chesley, claiming that it violates Ohio law, which limits a county’s authority to hire outside counsel without the approval of a judge and prosecutor. Chesley claims the contract must be fixed and cannot exceed the amount paid annually to the county prosecutor, or $109,000. Allen claims the contract pays Chesley up to one-third of any monetary damages awarded.
Chesley has argued that the contract complies with state law because Allen refused the commission’s request to appoint outside counsel in the case, and because he has a conflict of interest in acting as the commission’s attorney.
The latter is a consideration because U.S. District Judge S. Arthur Spiegel wrote in a February ruling, in which he denied motions to dismiss the case filed by the Bengals and the NFL, that Allen “possessed an inherent professional conflict” precluding him from representing the county because his office “negotiated the stadium lease agreement with the Bengals at issue in the case.”
In the underlying suit, County Commissioners Phil Heimlich and Todd Portune have alleged that the NFL illegally used its influence as a de facto monopoly to pressure cities into picking up the tab for expensive new stadiums. The county is seeking $200 million in punitive damages from the NFL and wants to triple that amount if antitrust allegations are upheld in court.
In Judge Spiegel’s February ruling, he wrote that the lawsuit “clearly alleges — in substantial detail with numerous supporting facts — that the defendants were able to coerce the construction of a new stadium and negotiate unjustifiably favorable lease terms solely because of the monopoly that they enjoy over professional football.”
Allen suit was filed in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court, but immediately moved, at Chesley’s request, to the federal court, where the anti-trust case is being heard.


Articles in Current Issue