Tampa stadium authority asks court for tighter security

Updated: April 17, 2007, 9:39 PM ET
Associated Press

MIAMI -- The Tampa Sports Authority called pat-down searches at Tampa Bay Buccaneers football games an essential layer of security in an age of terrorism and urged a federal appeals court Tuesday to reinstate them.

Tampa is the only NFL city where the pat-downs have been successfully challenged, although lawsuits have also been brought in Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco, according to attorneys in the Florida case.

Pat-downs are legal because a game ticket is a legal contract between the authority and the fan, one that can be revoked for virtually any reason, said Rick Zabak, an attorney for the sports authority, a governmental board that owns and operates Raymond James Stadium.

He also said adequate notice was given about the pat-downs, which the NFL instituted in 2005, and that Johnston's attendance at several games indicated his consent.

The U.S. Justice Department has sided with the sports authority.

"NFL games are attractive terrorist targets," said Jonathan Cohn, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's civil division. "There's no constitutional right to watch a football game live."

A message left Tuesday evening with an NFL spokesman was not immediately returned.

At least two of the three judges on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel appeared sympathetic to the searches, which are NFL policy at stadiums nationwide.

Senior Circuit Judge Peter T. Fay wondered whether terrorists had to attack a sports venue before such steps are taken.

"So there's got to be an explosion at some stadium? What would it take?" Fay asked lawyers for high school civics teacher Gordon Johnston during oral arguments.

Johnston's attorney, John Goldsmith, argued that Johnston never gave his consent for the searches and that the general threat of terrorism does not justify broad pat-downs without specific cause for concern.

"There has to be some concrete and real danger," Goldsmith said.

Circuit Judge Stanley F. Birch Jr. seemed troubled by that argument, given the changes in security at public events since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"Do you think there's a reasonable expectation of privacy any more?" Birch asked.

U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore last July upheld a state court ruling that the frisking violates the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

"It's like a slippery slope," Johnston, a season-ticket holder, said after Tuesday's hearing. "If I lose these rights, going to the games, then I'll lose other rights."

The judges did not indicate when they would rule.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press