The city’s lawsuit against Angels Baseball has been fun for no one – least of all the parties involved. But in order to protect the interests of Anaheim taxpayers and uphold the sanctity of contracts, it was a lawsuit the Anaheim City Council had to pursue.
After the jury verdict came out against the City of Anaheim, my colleagues and I spent the next few months carefully consideration whether we should appeal the verdict. After judging the information before us, we voted in closed session last week to pursue an appeal. Mayor Pro Tem Richard Chavez, Councilman Bob Hernandez, Councilwoman Lorri Galloway and I voted to appeal. Councilman Harry Sidhu voted against an appeal and to instead accept the jury verdict.
Believe me, I wish this whole matter could be resolved between the parties and made to go away. And the city tried to no avail, to negotiate with the Angels over these last months for a mutually beneficial outcome. But we have a duty to the citizens of Anaheim to hold the Angels to their contract, and I want to present to you our reasons for appealing the verdict.
Jury Instruction Errors
A number of errors were made in the conduct of the trial that negatively impacted Anaheim’s case.
For example, the attorney who represented Anaheim during the contract negotiations with the Angels – when the stipulation about the team name was made — was not allowed to testify.
Also, the judge barred other witnesses who would have helped Anaheim’s case from testifying, including witnesses who could testify to the value to our city of having the team be the “Anaheim” Angels.
The nature of the jury instructions also hurt Anaheim’s case and helped put the jury on course to ruling against us. We asked to have a number of elements included in those instructions. For example, we asked that the jury be allowed to consider outside evidence regarding the intent of the parties when negotiating the current contract between Anaheim and the Angeles. In other words, when the jury considered any ambiguity in the language of the contract’s team name requirement, we believed the jury should have been allowed to consider outside evidence in order to determine what the intent was of contract parties.
But this reasonable request was denied.
There was also a witness who had been one of Disney’s early on negotiators on the contract with Anaheim that led to the team being re-named the Anaheim Angels in 1996. This witness testified as to what Disney’s intent – or at least his own – in allowing the team-naming language to be somewhat loose.
We wanted the jury to be instructed that “unexpressed intent” could NOT be considered, which is clear in California contract law – but our request was denied in this as well.
Interviews with the jury members following the trail also made it clear these factors influenced the jury to rule against Anaheim, and helped convince a super-majority of the city council to pursue an appeal.
Even so, Anaheim’s preference is to resolve the issue outside the courtroom, and we have been in contact with Angels Baseball during the last several months in hopes of doing just that.
Angels’ Want Anaheim Taxpayers To Foot The Bill
Unfortunately, we are unable to make headway due to Angels Baseball’s insistence on continuing to pursue billing Anaheim taxpayers for their legal expenses – and that is unacceptable to me and my colleagues who voted to appeal the verdict.
There is no “loser pays” provision in either California law or the city’s contract with the Angels – and we refuse to be penalized for acting to hold Angels Baseball to the terms of the contract they had with the citizens of Anaheim.
If Anaheim wins the appeal, we won’t have to worry about paying Angel Baseball’s legal bill. Since our attorney’s have agreed to cap their fee at $150,000 for the appeal, I think many would agree that it is smarter to pursue a strong case for appeal than to simply give up and pay the Angels’ multi-million legal fees.
Written Judgment Paves Way For Angels To Leave Anaheim If We Don’t Appeal
There’s one aspect of the verdict that has hardly been covered in the media, despite its serious consequences for Anaheim: the written judgment.
This is the document that actually sets down the terms by which the parties to the lawsuit must abide.
As it stands, the written judgment allows Angels Baseball to call the team anything it wants – anything at all. The team could completely erase any mention of Anaheim from anything Angels related – logos, merchandise, marketing, promotions – as long as somewhere in some legal filing the team was called the “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.” We know this because we asked the judge if the team could call itself and market itself as the “Los Angels Angels” and he confirmed it.
We believe that this written judgment goes far beyond what the jury decided, but it will stand if we do not appeal. If we do not appeal, Angels Baseball is free to market the team without any reference to Anaheim – even as the team plays in a stadium they did not pay to build and for which they pay no rent, and otherwise enjoys the financial benefits of an extraordinarily one-sided contract.
One of the only real benefits Anaheim received was the publicity resulting from the team being called the Anaheim Angels. That name was essentially the rent the team paid to the taxpayers of Anaheim.
I believe failure to appeal this verdict paves the road for the Angels to leave Anaheim. If during the next 10 years under the contract the Angels only referred to themselves only as the Los Angeles Angels with no mention of Anaheim, then they will be identifying themselves with another region and laying the groundwork for re-locating when the contract expires.
Mayor Pro Tem Chavez, Coouncil members Hernandez and Galloway, and I understand that and acted accordingly – and, we are convinced, rightly.
A final note as to the city’s legal fees, which amount to about $4 million. This money hasn’t come from the General Fund, but from an “enterprise fund”: monies budgeted for operating city facilities such as the Stadium or the Convention Center. As I mentioned, legal fees for the appeal are capped at $150,000.
No one on the City Council enjoys paying legal bills for the city, but we are adamantly opposed to paying other people’s attorneys fees when we are only fighting to protect ourselves.
If there were an acceptable alternative to appealing the verdict, we would explore it. However, given that:
• Jury interviews showed errors caused by the Court molded the opinion of the jurors against the city’s position,
• The Angels insist Anaheim taxpayers pay their attorneys fees,
• And the written judgment allows the team to call itself anything it wants, paving the way for the Angels to leave Anaheim,
…the only course open to us, is an appeal.
It is my sincere hope the three appellate judge panel hearing the case will correct the errors made and allow for a fair hearing to be presented. I will keep you updated as new information presents itself.