ST. LOUIS — A judge said Wednesday he plans to postpone until January the trial resulting from the 2016 departure of the St. Louis Rams to Los Angeles.
Citing Missouri Supreme Court guidelines for reopening courts during the pandemic and concerns about finding enough jurors willing to sit for what could be a two-month trial, Judge Christopher McGraugh said he intends to reschedule the civil trial pitting St. Louisans against Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke and the NFL to Jan. 10.
“For as much work as you all have put in on this and as much effort it will be to actually try this case, I’m concerned about trying to push this through in October when at best it’s probably a 50/50, if less, chance of it actually occurring,” McGraugh told lawyers in a virtual court hearing Wednesday.
Neither side objected to McGraugh’s proposal.
Summonses to prospective jurors could be mailed out in August, with another round in the fall.
McGraugh discussed a timeline for mailing out roughly 1,500 questionnaires to ask prospective jurors about hardships of serving on a multi-week trial and to gather details about biases that could influence their ability to judge the case fairly.
“I think it’s going to be a challenge here to get a jury panel that can be fair and impartial,” the NFL’s lawyer, Gerard “Jerry” Carmody, told the judge.
Robert Haar, a lawyer for Kroenke and the Rams, expressed concern about pretrial press coverage of the case, the timing for sending out questionnaires and about finding impartial jurors in St. Louis.
“It’s a matter of critical importance to my clients and something we’re grappling with,” he said.
McGraugh said he recognizes the difficulty in finding enough impartial jurors to serve for one of the region’s most closely watched court cases. He said he favored using more detailed questionnaires to eliminate jurors with biases against either side well before in-person jury selection.
“I agree getting a jury in this case is going to be the most difficult part about this trial,” McGraugh said.
The 52-page lawsuit filed in 2017 by St. Louis, St. Louis County and the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority claims the NFL violated its own relocation rules by allowing the Rams to leave St. Louis. The plaintiffs are seeking upward of $1 billion, claiming the Rams’ departure cost the city millions in amusement, ticket and earnings tax revenue. The suit alleges breach of contract, fraud, illegal enrichment and interference in business by the Rams and the NFL, causing significant public financial loss.
The league’s relocation rules were established in 1984 to avoid antitrust liability and direct teams to work to remain in their home communities.
Last month, the parties in the case convened to discuss problems with scheduling depositions and sharing evidence ahead of an April deadline in preparation for trial.