8.28.2008

Ainge Trial Begins

The Danny Ainge case, billed as "the Toronto Blue Jays vs. the Boston Celtics ," opened yesterday in US District Court.

The highlights:

- A six-member, one-alternate jury was selected.

- The Blue Jays indicated they would be willing to negotiate a settlement of Ainge's baseball contract if they are successful in this lawsuit.

- Ainge, the Blue Jays' infielder, reiterated that under no circumstances does he wish to play baseball after next Sunday.

- Celtics' counsel Earl Cooley heatedly charged that Judge Lee Gagliardi was biased against him.

The Blue Jays claim that the Celtics' basketball club interfered with the execution of a contract signed by Ainge on Sept. 15, 1980. The Celtics respond that Ainge had been given a verbal release from that contract by Toronto president Peter Bavasi on June 11 of this year and was therefore free to deal with them. In addition, the Celtics are contending that the baseball contract, because it contains a restrictive covenant that precludes him from playing both professional and recreational basketball is an antitrust violation since it reaches far beyond the province of baseball.

As the judge therefore summarized to the jury, there are two main issues to be decided in this case: 1. Was there a recision or cancellation of contract? 2. Was there an enforceable contract?

The jury represented the survivors of a group of 22 interviewed during the selection process, and consists of the following: Donald Stitt, a computer specialist for Chase Manhattan Bank; Serge Hoehnevart, an industrial engineer who stressed that he knew absolutely nothing about professional baseball or basketball; Eileen Smith, a Manhattan housewife; Winifred Grant, an educator; Frank Bernabo, a computer programming analyst for an insurance company; Phillip Daniels, a retired engineer for the New York City Board of Education; and alternate Linda Banks, a social worker.

Three members of the original jury were excused when they indicated they wouldn't be able to work on Tuesday or Wednesday due to the High Holy Days. Court will in fact, be in recess today, but due to tight court schedules on the part of both the respective counsels and the judge Wednesday must be a work day, and so three new jurors had to be selected.

In his opening statement, Toronto lawyer Douglas Parker stressed that while the Blue Jays wish to have the Ainge contract upheld, they would be willing to negotiate a buy-out at a future date, presumably next spring, after Ainge has had a chance to attend 1982 spring training. This attitude persists despite Ainge's persistent declaration that his baseball career will conclude next Sunday, following Toronto's last game.

"I'm unhappy playing baseball for Toronto," said Ainge, who had flown all night from the West Coast and who spent the better part of the morning catnapping in the back row of the courtroom. "And I don't want to play for them anymore. Toronto thinks that if they can keep Boston off my back I'll change my mind by spring training."

It was revealed that late last week Ainge applied for voluntary retired status as a baseball player.

The final fireworks of the day were provided by Cooley, who, after finding himself interrupted four times from the bench during his lengthy opening statement, waited until the jury had departed and then charged prejudicial treatment on the part of Gagliardi. It was Cooley's contention that the jury could not help but be unduly influenced by the judge's constant admonitions, and that Cooley felt were particularly unwarranted in view of what he felt were the occasional digressions of Parker during his own opening statement.

Gagliardi assured the Boston attorney that he had no such bias.

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