Team files lawsuit to renegotiate terms

11/26/2003 - San Diego Chargers

SAN DIEGO -- In a move that surprised and angered city
officials, the San Diego Chargers filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles asking a judge to determine whether the team has triggered a clause
that allows it to renegotiate its lease at Qualcomm Stadium.

The suit against the city of San Diego was filed late Tuesday
afternoon in Los Angeles Superior Court. The Chargers didn't tell
San Diego city officials or announce it until Wednesday morning,
stirring up an already contentious issue.

Mayor Dick Murphy called the lawsuit a "sneak," and he and
City Attorney Casey Gwinn met the team's move with a verbal blitz.

"If the Chargers want to fight, I'm willing to give them one,"
Murphy said. "If they perform as well in the court room as they do
on the field, I would say we'll kill them."

The Chargers are currently 2-9, tied for the worst record in the
NFL. They haven't had a winning record or made a playoff appearance
since 1995.

Murphy called the lawsuit "an insult to the city of San Diego"
and criticized the team for filing it as the region tries to
recover from last month's devastating wildfires.

"For the Chargers to try to take advantage of the people of San
Diego is outrageous," Murphy said.

The Chargers want a judge to decide whether the team has met the
complicated financial formula that would allow them to renegotiate
their lease and free them to either pursue a proposed new stadium
or leave town.

The trigger clause can only be activated if the team's salaries
and benefits exceed its salary cap, which team officials say has
been surpassed.

Murphy called a closed session of the City Council for Monday to
discuss legal strategy.

City negotiators have seen the Chargers' books but haven't
commented publicly on the team's ability to trigger. However, Gwinn
said he has "grave doubts that they have presented any evidence
that they can trigger."

Gwinn also pointed out that the Chargers' suit states that "The
City's refusal either to acknowledge or challenge the validity of
the Renegotiation Notice will significantly impair the Chargers'
ability to conduct effective negotiations with third parties."

Said Gwinn: "Let's be clear about what the Chargers want -- to
move to Los Angeles and make more money. Don't insult the
intelligence of the fans and the taxpayers by telling us you want
to stay, and then sue the taxpayers for the right to leave."

There has been speculation for two years that the Chargers want
to move to Los Angeles, which has been without the NFL since the
Raiders and Rams left before the 1995 season. The Chargers played
their first season, 1960, in Los Angeles before moving to San

The Chargers' lead negotiator, attorney Mark Fabiani, said the
team has been contacted by groups in Los Angeles, Anaheim and Long
Beach, but has told them it wants to try to make a deal in San

Fabiani, a former special counsel to the Clinton White House,
said a provision in the team's 1995 lease agreement allows either
side to file a suit anywhere in California.

"I think everyone realizes football is an emotional issue,"
Fabiani said. "We want these decisions made based on the facts,
not based on emotion."

The Chargers' law firm is based in Los Angeles.

Asked about filing a suit in a city that could gain a football
team, Fabiani said: "This is not in the newspaper every day in
L.A. It's not on TV at all in L.A. It is not a big issue in Los
Angeles by any stretch of the imagination."

The 1995 lease, intended to keep the team in town until 2020,
allows the team to reopen contract negotiations if certain
conditions are met.

As part of the lease, the city expanded Qualcomm Stadium in
1997. Three years later, Chargers owner Alex Spanos said the team
needed a new stadium to remain financially competitive with other
NFL teams.

The two sides have been negotiating in private since March. The
Chargers have twice extended negotiating deadlines at the city's
request, and that period now ends in May.

If there's no deal by then, the Chargers will have 18 months to
seek an offer from another city and present it to San Diego city
officials. San Diego would then have 90 days to match that offer.

The Chargers have offered to submit the trigger issue to binding
arbitration but the city has refused, saying it doesn't want to
forfeit its right to demand a jury trial.