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‘The city has the NFL by the throat’: Legal Roundtable digs into Rams litigation

Stan Kroenke, shown at a 2012 press conference, faces the prospect of a trial in St. Louis this January.
File photo / Bill Greenblatt
Stan Kroenke, shown at a 2012 press conference, faces the prospect of a trial in St. Louis this January.

Last week, the Missouri Supreme Court declined to grant a last-ditch reprieve to the NFL and Rams owner Stan Kroenke, choosing not to intervene in the lawsuit against them in St. Louis Circuit Court. Kroenke and four other team owners — the Cowboys’ Jerry Jones, the Giants’ John Mara, the Patriots’ Robert Kraft and former Panthers owner Jerry Richardson — must now turn over three years' worth of financial records or pay fines of up to $1,000 per day.

It’s only the latest setback for Kroenke and his deep-pocketed colleagues, who are being sued by an array of St. Louis-area governmental entities over Kroenke being permitted to move the Rams to Los Angeles after the 2015 football season. St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Christopher McGraugh had previously declined to grant summary judgment to Kroenke and the league — their best hope of stopping the suit without a fat settlement or jury trial.

The case is now set for trial in St. Louis in January.

From left, attorneys Mark Smith, Sarah Swatosh and Eric Banks on St. Louis on the Air's Legal Roundtable.
Evie Hemphill
St. Louis Public Radio
From left, attorneys Mark Smith, Sarah Swatosh and Eric Banks on St. Louis on the Air's Legal Roundtable.

“They have absolutely nowhere else to turn,” Eric Banks, a former St. Louis city counselor now in private practice at Banks Law, explained on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air. “There's no federal question, so the federal courts are not going to intervene. This case will be settled, or it will be tried in January.”

Mark Smith, an attorney who previously served as associate vice chancellor and dean for career services at Washington University, would put his money on settlement.

“If I had to predict what was going to happen, I would think that the NFL is going to want to not have all their dirty laundry aired, not have everyone looking through all their stuff,” he said. “They'll try and offer an expansion team or something to make everyone happy.”

But Sarah Swatosh, a partner at the firm Sedey Harper Westhoff, said she’d be loathe to settle: “I think the city has the NFL by the throat.” With punitive damages, she said the St. Louis parties would have no difficulty making the case for a payment of $1 billion or more.

“This thing has been going on since 2011,” she said of Kroenke’s behind-the-scenes machinations. “It's like ‘Game of Thrones.’ It's only gonna get better. You just got to stay with it.”

“It's Like ‘Game of Thrones.’ It's Only Gonna Get Better."
Listen to St. Louis on the Air's Legal Roundtable discuss the Rams litigation, and much more

The attorneys discussed the litigation as part of St. Louis on the Air’s Legal Roundtable. They also dug into Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s lawsuit against mask mandates. He had sought to litigate the case as a “reverse class action,” suing the Columbia School District while seeking a preliminary injunction that would apply to districts across the state. The judge rejected that request and also declined to let the case proceed as a class action.

Swatosh said that seemed like the right decision.

“If you look at typical class action factors, you have to have commonality, typicality, numerosity. If you look at commonality, a rural school in Missouri with 80 kids in the entire high school is vastly different than Columbia, Missouri,” she said. “You're not going to have commonality and typicality among: ‘How do we mask? How do we social distance? How do we have all of these other COVID measures?’ And so I think Schmitt needs to go school by school and say, ‘This mask mandate, or your protocols, aren't appropriate for this particular case.’ I don't think the class action, or reverse class action, would be appropriate for all schools across the state of Missouri.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske served as host of St. Louis on the Air from July 2019 until June 2022. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.