In court, Benjamin Razi rarely smiles.
The partner with the Washington, D.C. based law firm Covington & Burling is one of the many lawyers on Team Kroenke, the sprawling legal team representing Rams owner Stan Kroenke and the NFL in ongoing legal fallout from the Rams’ relocation rip-job.
Razi’s suits are always sharp. His hair is always perfect. His arguments are almost always repetitive.
Razi doesn’t think our region’s lawsuit aiming to hold Kroenke and the rest of the NFL cartel responsible for running roughshod over its own relocation guidelines should ever reach jurors’ ears. He thinks the NFL’s relocation guidelines are whatever the league wants them to be that day, not an agreement host cities can count on for good-faith negotiations. He thinks Team STL — the lawyers representing the city, the county and the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority — has been too aggressive with a discovery process that has pursued NFL owners’ phone records and tax documents.
Razi has not seemed to be having much fun during his repeated trips to The Lou as Team Kroenke’s losses in court continue.
Then came Tuesday afternoon.
When St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Christopher McGraugh granted Team Kroenke its wish to close the courtroom to the press as Team Kroenke presented its reasons for requesting a venue change in this years-long civil suit, siding with Team Kroenke over a request submitted by Post-Dispatch lawyer John Hessel, Razi turned from his seat near the front of the courtroom and looked back at the reporters filing into the hallway. He was grinning from ear to ear. Team Kroenke scored a rare win. This one didn’t last long.
When Judge McGraugh allowed the media back in to listen to his questions about the arguments he had just heard from Team Kroenke, it became clear that Team Kroenke had spent part of the closed portion of the afternoon claiming media coverage of the lawsuit is decreasing the NFL’s chance of a fair January trial in front of a jury made up of St. Louisans.
That’s rich. Blame the media. How 2021.
Judge McGraugh, thankfully, called out the bogus claim. He pointed out the difference between news reporters reporting and sports columnists opining. Good for him. I could have done without what Judge McGraugh said next. He reminded Team Kroenke that not everyone reads the newspaper these days. I resisted the urge to object.
I would agree, though, that the NFL has done more damage to itself than anything printed here. The Rams know a thing or two about editorializing. Remember the scorched-earth relocation application that made St. Louis sound like a hellhole for pro sports teams? Potential jurors might. Same for Rams executive Kevin Demoff’s repeated lies about Kroenke’s intentions. Same for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and former league executive Eric Grubman’s quotes about the importance of the relocation guidelines, the very same guidelines Razi and his fellow lawyers say mean nothing now. If you were wondering how the league went from spreading a narrative that St. Louis didn’t care enough about its football team to fearing an unfair trial because ex-Rams fans are so mad, you are not the only one. More on that in a moment.
As much as this media member would like to take credit for exposing the league’s hypocrisy, Team Kroenke has lapped the field in that department. And it just keeps happening. Tuesday was no different. Team Kroenke continues to take a falling-out-of-a-tree approach to its defense. Grab any branch you can on the way down, no matter how weak. The branches keep breaking. Some of them have even smacked Team Kroenke in the face.
Judge McGraugh made some great points as he shut down Team Kroenke’s request to shift this lawsuit to a different courtroom in a different part of the state.
While presenting his argument for a venue change, Team Kroenke member Robert Haar, a partner at St. Louis based Haar & Woods, suggested city jurors would be ripe for influencing by Team STL on the topics of diminished civic pride, loss of jobs and loss of economic impact caused by the Rams’ relocation. Judge McGraugh said Team Kroenke provided no proof of those assumptions.
Haar also suggested the amount of money at stake in terms of potential damages — a reference to the pursuit of “10-figure damages” was mentioned — would tempt jurors to add that kind of cash to the city coffers no matter the subject matter of the trial. Judge McGraugh said if that was a legitimate point, then taxpayers would never be allowed to be jurors in a municipal case.
Then Judge McGraugh made an observation that was so spot-on it received no response from Team Kroenke.
“Lastly,” said Judge McGraugh while denying the request for a venue change, “the defense position is somewhat undermined by the position they’ve taken throughout the pretrial motion. My understanding is that the Rams and the NFL position is they didn’t have to follow the (relocation) guidelines. But if they did, then there wasn’t enough support in this community to maintain a team. It seems now to be able to say that this community is so angry, it will punish them for leaving seems to be a contrary position.”
Team Kroenke can’t blame the media for that burn. Razi didn’t turn around to get a good look at reporters after it landed. Perhaps his smile had faded.