Friday, April 16, 2004

County tries an end run

Files to sub for plaintiff challenged by Bengals

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Hamilton County put a federal antitrust lawsuit against the Cincinnati Bengals and the National Football League on more solid footing Thursday by asking to step in for the Groesbeck woman who is currently the plaintiff.

The request follows through on county commissioners' decision five weeks ago to join Carrie Davis' taxpayer lawsuit in U.S. District Court.

The $600 million action alleges the team and the league illegally used their pro football monopoly to force the county to build Paul Brown Stadium and lease it to the Bengals on favorable terms. The $451 million construction project, completed in 2000, was paid for with a half-cent sales tax increase approved by voters in 1996.

But the county isn't seeking simply to join Davis in the lawsuit - it's seeking to replace the mother of four. The distinction could speed the suit through the legal system.

The Bengals have challenged Davis' right to sue on the county's behalf, but it becomes a moot point if Judge S. Arthur Spiegel accepts the county as substitute.

Officials for the Bengals and the National Football League declined comment Thursday.

Their attorneys have already conceded the county's right to sue in an earlier filing that said it "is perfectly capable of pursuing a claim on its own behalf."

New legal maneuvers could still crop up to slow the case.

"The defendants, I'm sure, are going to try to wage some motion war games," said Stanley Chesley, the prominent class-action attorney who is representing the county. "I want to move forward with discovery, which is the one thing the defendants don't want."

The case has already taken several twists:

• Prosecutor Mike Allen is fighting the commissioners' hiring of Chesley. Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman approved the action last week, but Allen is appealing the decision.

• The county's substitution, if permitted, would be the second change of plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Commissioner Todd Portune originally filed the suit as an individual, but Davis stepped in for him in late 2003 after Portune learned his involvement prevented him from voting on related matters.

Portune and Commissioner Phil Heimlich voted to join the suit in March. Davis is happy to step aside and let the county take over, she said Thursday.

"It's in good hands," she said.


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