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NFL may have to break open books

CINCINNATI -- A federal judge ruled Monday that a taxpayer
can pursue a lawsuit alleging that the NFL has illegally used its
clout to "extort" new stadiums from cities.

U.S. District Judge S. Arthur Spiegel rejected the league's
arguments that there was no legal standing for the case, which is
based on how the Cincinnati Bengals got their new stadium.

Lawyers for taxpayer Carrie Davis now can try to get financial
records and other private information from the league as they
prepare for trial, something the NFL has strongly resisted in
previous antitrust cases.

"Our attorneys have not had an opportunity to fully study the
court's decision," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. "The case is
in its very early stages, and we have every confidence that we will
ultimately prevail."

Bengals spokesman Jack Brennan said the team had no comment.

The lawsuit originally was filed by Hamilton County commissioner
Todd Portune, who has feuded with the Bengals over financing and
management of Paul Brown Stadium. The $458 million stadium, which
opened in 2000, was built in part with money from a county sales
tax hike.

A companion lawsuit filed in state courts was thrown out.
Spiegel decided there were federal issues worthy of a trial.

Portune said the judge's ruling opens the way for lawyers to get
detailed financial information from the league through the
discovery process leading to trial. No trial date has been set.

"That's the kind of stuff they absolutely don't want to get out
and have never been willing to release, but now will have to,"
Portune said. "I think it's great news for the county and for
county taxpayers. There was a very strong effort by the Bengals and
the NFL to keep these cases bottled up without ever getting out of
the box and to paint them as frivolous."

Residents were angry that overruns greatly inflated the cost of
the stadium, and that the Bengals continued to lose after they
moved in for the 2000 season. The Bengals haven't had a winning
season since 1990, compiling the NFL's worst record over the last
13 years.

Team owner Mike Brown hired an outsider as head coach after a
2-14 finish in 2002, the worst in franchise history. Marvin Lewis
got more control than his coaching predecessors and kept the team
in contention until the final game of an 8-8 season.

Davis, a community activist, agreed to take Portune's place as
plaintiff in the case after conflict of interest questions were
raised. The league claimed she couldn't pursue the lawsuit, but
Spiegel sided with Davis in an 81-page ruling.

Spiegel also agreed that Davis can pursue her claims that the
NFL violated federal antitrust provisions by using its monopoly to
"extort" new stadiums and highly favorable lease terms from
communities. Brown had threatened to move the team from Cincinnati
if a stadium tax proposal was voted down in the 1990s.

"The bottom line is the NFL lied not just to Hamilton County
residents, but to numerous communities across the country to make
taxpayers fund a private enterprise," Davis said in an interview
Monday. "They gave us wrong information to twist our arms into
paying for a stadium."

Spiegel is known as the judge who sentenced Pete Rose to jail
for tax violations in 1989, shortly after the Reds manager accepted
a lifetime ban from baseball for gambling.