Sunday, March 14, 2004

Chesley: Bengals are just 'bullying'

By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Accusing the Cincinnati Bengals of using "bullying tactics," attorney Stan Chesley Saturday defended the county's decision to join a taxpayer's anti-trust lawsuit against the National Football League and Cincinnati's home team.

The lawsuit claims the two entities used an NFL's monopoly as the nation's only professional football league to "extort" a new stadium from taxpayers. Hamilton County Commissioners Todd Portune and Phil Heimlich agreed last week, by a 2-0 vote, to join the lawsuit and hire Chesley to represent taxpayers.

Troy Blackburn, the Bengals' director of business development and owner Mike Brown's son-in-law, said Friday the lawsuit likely will take four years to resolve, and said it will get "ugly."

Blackburn threatened a counter-lawsuit that could force taxpayers to pick up the tab for the team's legal bills, or pay a tax bill the IRS is trying to collect for $26 million that Hamilton County collected from personal seat licenses during stadium construction. Although the county collected the money, the team took credit for it as one of its contributions toward building the stadium.

"They say we'll be sorry," Chesley said. "It's absurd. It's a bullying tactic that they're famous for. Citizens are finally saying they want to see the facts."

The lawsuit is significant because it could force the NFL and the Bengals to open their books during discovery, the information-sharing stage of the lawsuit. Chesley said the Bengals' claim that taxpayers could get stuck with their legal fees is wrong, since this suit is not over any issue in the Bengals' lease.

"Why are they so angry?" Chesley asked. "Because unless the court reverses itself on a well-thought-out, 81-page decision saying this case can move forward, I get to start taking depositions. And there are a whole lot of people who don't want to be put under oath."

Bengals attorney W. Stuart Dornette said the team stands by comments made Friday, the first public remarks on the subject.

Among other things, Blackburn suggested Portune's motivation for the suit was his bid for re-election this fall. Asked Saturday why he thinks Heimlich, who is not up for re-election, agreed to join the suit, Dornette said he didn't want "to speculate."

Heimlich said voting in favor of the county joining the litigation was his duty, after Judge Arthur Spiegel wrote a Feb. 9 opinion dismissing the Bengals' request to have the suit thrown out.

"I believe in fiscal responsibility and the reason I agreed to join this lawsuit is to protect the county taxpayers," Heimlich said.


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