Bowlen attorney insists there was no wrongdoing

Updated: February 18, 2004, 12:08 AM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- A nasty dispute over the ownership of the Denver Broncos went to the jury Tuesday after an attorney for current owner Pat Bowlen insisted he did nothing wrong when he bought the team 20 years ago.

Former owner Edgar Kaiser claims Bowlen signed a contract saying he would be a sole owner, then cheated him out of a chance to buy back part-ownership by distributing ownership interests among his siblings.

But during closing arguments, Bowlen attorney Daniel Reilly told a packed courtroom Kaiser knew Bowlen had financial backing from his family when he showed interest in the team. He also said the Bowlen family did nothing to conceal its involvement in the franchise.

"They do such a bad job of keeping it a secret that it's in game-day programs, in media guides and in the press," Reilly said.

He urged the jury to consider the credibility of Kaiser, whom he said knew of the Bowlen family's involvement as early as 1985 but told the jury he didn't know until 1996. The attorney said Kaiser's wife and legal representatives didn't back up his story.

"The people who do the most damage to Edgar Kaiser's story are those closest to him," Reilly said.

Kaiser bought the Broncos for about $30 million in 1981. Bowlen bought a 60.8 percent stake from Kaiser for $65 million three years later, and his family bought the rest from minority shareholders in 1985.

Kaiser sued in 1999, accusing Bowlen of distributing ownership interests to family members in violation of the sale agreement.

Kaiser also said Bowlen gave former quarterback John Elway a chance to buy a stake in the team, despite a provision in the sales agreement that gave Kaiser the first shot at any such offer.

Kaiser also claimed a Bowlen family company, Hambledon Estates Ltd., designated Bowlen as an agent for the purchase. Minutes of board meetings in December 1984 showed that directors believed that a direct acquisition of the team by Hambledon could be impossible because of Kaiser's position on family ownership.

"There can't be any question as to who bought the Denver Broncos in spite of what Mr. Bowlen says to you and in spite of what he told Mr. Kaiser. The purchaser of the Denver Broncos was Hambledon Estates," said Kaiser's attorney, Stephen Long. "Our case has been documents and evidence. The defense case has been to attack Mr. Kaiser."

If Kaiser wins, a second trial will be held to determine what Bowlen owes Kaiser, which could include monetary damages -- or even a chance to buy a share of the team.

Elway testified last week that from the time Kaiser sold the team he understood Bowlen to be the team owner. But he also said it was common knowledge within the organization that members of Bowlen's family had some ownership involvement.

After he retired in 1999, Elway said Bowlen offered him a deal to buy up to a 20 percent stake in the team and work for Bowlen, eventually becoming the team's chief operations officer. Elway said he decided against taking Bowlen's offer because he didn't want to be a minority shareholder.

Reilly said the question was moot because Elway declined the offer, but Long said the mere fact that an offer was made should have triggered a provision of the contract requiring Bowlen to notify Kaiser about the offer.

"What does matter in this case is what Mr. Bowlen assured Mr. Kaiser of and what he promised him," Long said. "Those promises were broken."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press