SEATTLE Attorney General Christine Gregoire today filed an antitrust lawsuit alleging Ken Behring, the Seattle Seahawks owner, used unfair and anti-competitive business practices in attempting to move his team to Southern California.
The antitrust action, filed in U.S. District Court, contends Behring violated federal and state antitrust laws and Washington's consumer protection statutes. It also makes a claim, on behalf of the state, that Washington's economy and the public welfare will be harmed if the Seahawks breach the Kingdome contract.
"This lawsuit is not just about football," Gregoire said at a mid-afternoon press conference at the federal court house in Seattle. "It's about fair play in business practices and fair play in keeping commitments to the taxpay ers of Washington."
Gregoire said Behring violated antitrust laws by engaging in anti-competitive actions intended to maintain his monopoly on professional football in Washington. The suit contends Behring "embarked on a campaign of innuendo and misinformation" to block other professional football teams from entering either the Seattle or Los Angeles markets, and now is playing both regions against each other.
Gregoire also noted that the state played a major role in assisting the NFL's creation of the Seattle franchise by facilitating the construction of the Kingdome. The state's expectation, she said, was to have a franchise in Washington to provide for substantial tax revenue, boost the state's general economy and provide "intangible and immeasurable benefits" to Washington citizens.
"Whether you care about professional football or not, this is a case of an NFL owner who has abused his power and is trying to take advantage of the people of Washington," Gregoire said.
In addition, the suit charges Behring violated Washington's consumer protection laws by selling fans 1996 season tickets without warning buyers of his plans to move the team. Consumers are entitled to see the team remain in Seattle, as was promised repeatedly by Behring.
Gregoire is asking the federal court to order Behring to keep the team in Seattle. She said this is the only appropriate remedy, and further, he likely could not afford to pay the potential damages, which under federal antitrust laws, could total $1 billion. In addition, the lawsuit asks the court to order the team to repay consum ers, impose civil penalties and award court costs.
King County Executive Gary Locke, who joined Gregoire at the press conference, said, "We'll fight Ken Behring with every legal weapon we have and in every court in the land. We have a valid lease for 10 more seasons in the Kingdome and we intend to make Mr. Behring honor it. I asked Attorney General Gregoire for help, and I thank her for acting aggressively to protect the interests of fans and taxpayers of this state."
The Attorney General's Office today also filed a request to inspect and copy Seahawks' documents, a motion for a court order requiring the team to preserve all documents, and a series of questions for the defendants to answer. In its request for documents, the state is seeking any information that may be related to the lawsuit.
The Attorney General said this action is expected to proceed separately from the lawsuit King County has filed in state court. "Our action states different violations of the law and will proceed separately," she said.
Gregoire also noted that her office has assigned an assistant attorney general to help King County in its case.
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Contact: Senior Assistant Attorney General John Hough
Fred Olson, Director of Administration