State could pay to fight NFL in court

March 12, 1994|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Sun Staff Writer

If the NFL tries to block the move of a franchise into Baltimore, state money could be used to mount a legal fight.

Maryland Stadium Authority chairman Herbert J. Belgrad, speaking at a budget hearing before the House Appropriations Committee this week, was asked about the possibility of state-funded legal action. He said the state has not made any plans for a legal challenge, but would be prepared to assist.

Several lawyers have offered to take the case on a contingency basis, getting paid only in the event the state wins, he said. The winners in antitrust cases receive three times the estimated damages actually suffered, making such cases potentially lucrative for victors.

"Because we have, pursuant to the language in our statute, been responsible for returning the NFL here, if we feel that the actions of the NFL are wrong, we have a standing to sue or be party to a suit," Belgrad said.

The NFL has not said it would block a move of a team to Baltimore, but may oppose such a move, especially if the Washington Redskins move to Laurel, 14 miles away.

"We would vigorously and aggressively pursue our remedies," Belgrad said. "We owe at least that much to an investor who may spend up to $200 million to buy a franchise."

Committee member Samuel L. Rosenberg, D-Baltimore, said he would support such an effort.

"In light of the NFL's winless record, it is more than prudent for us to consider suing them if they seek to keep a team from moving here. It would not be responsible for us not to consider that," the delegate said.

Del. Ellen R. Sauerbrey, R-Baldwin, however, disagreed.

"I don't think it's a prudent move. I don't think any jurisdiction has any clear rights to say we're entitled to a franchise. And if we're talking about getting the NFL to move here, talk about a lawsuit could have a chilling effect," Sauerbrey said.

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