ST. LOUIS — A St. Louis judge Wednesday fined four National Football League owners a total of $24,000, ordered them to pay an additional $25,000 in legal fees and threatened to hold them in contempt for flouting his order to produce financial statements ahead of next year’s trial over the Rams football team’s move to Los Angeles.
Circuit Judge Christopher McGraugh issued fines of $5,000 to Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt, $8,000 to New York Giants owner John Mara, $6,000 to Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, and $5,000 to New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft for disclosing only some financial statements to plaintiffs in the 4-year-old relocation lawsuit.
“It does seem to me that your clients ... are dragging their feet on this,” McGraugh told a lawyer for the owners. “It seems like we’re in a three-card monte game.”
The fines were based on the judge’s warning last month that he’d impose a $1,000-per-day penalty for missing a Sept. 28 deadline to produce records.
The judge’s sanctions come three months before the trial in the 2017 lawsuit that alleged the NFL broke the league’s relocation rules by allowing the Rams to leave St. Louis while misleading the public about staying here. The plaintiffs claimed the Rams’ departure cost the city millions in amusement, ticket and earnings tax revenue.
In July, McGraugh ordered Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke and five other league executives to disclose financial records of their business interests to help a jury determine damages if the case goes to trial in January. Missouri law allows the admission of civil defendants’ financial assets to allow juries to assess punitive damages.
The six owners lost their appeals to the Missouri Appeals Court at St. Louis and the Missouri Supreme Court. After exhausting those appeals, McGraugh said Wednesday, the owners should have produced the documents as ordered.
Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke, who tried to avoid disclosing all of the records, later did disclose statements declaring his net worth, Jim Bennett, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs, said in court on Wednesday.
Bennett said another former club owner, Jerry Richardson, also produced records but that Hunt, Mara, Jones and Kraft provided incomplete records days after the deadline.
Defense lawyer Benjamin Razi said his clients have been “working hard” to produce available records but that they did not necessarily have everything the plaintiffs wanted.
“There’s been no intentional effort to obstruct anything,” Razi told the judge.
McGraugh said there seemed to be little effort by the owners to assemble the requested documents as ordered three months ago. Also Wednesday, McGraugh set a Dec. 3 hearing at which lawyers for the four owners will have to prove why McGraugh should not hold them in contempt of court for disregarding his order. If the four owners don't comply by then, McGraugh said, he'd grant "default judgment" for the plaintiffs.
“This behavior just cannot go on,” McGraugh said Wednesday in court.