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Rams, NFL appeal decision keeping relocation trial in St. Louis

The defendants asked for the change because the plaintiffs "have undue influence over the prospective jury pool"
Credit: AP
St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke takes questions from the media at a news conference at The Forum in Inglewood, Calif., on Friday, Jan. 15, 2016. The Rams are returning to play in 2016 in the Los Angeles area at a new stadium to be built on a site near The Forum. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

ST. LOUIS — The Los Angeles Rams and National Football League on Friday appealed a state-court judge's decision in August to keep a trial over the team's relocation in the city of St. Louis, another late attempt to avoid a hearing before St. Louisans.

In their petition for writ to the Missouri Court of Appeals' Eastern District, the defendants in the lawsuit, brought in 2017, claim St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Christopher McGraugh erred in his August decision. A trial is set for Jan. 10 in the case, which claims the Rams failed to meet the team's obligations under the NFL's relocation policy, including by failing to negotiate in good faith on a plan for a Mississippi riverfront stadium and making false statements that induced St. Louis to spend $18 million on that effort. Damages sought exceed $1 billion.

The defendants have focused on the idea that St. Louis didn't live up to the terms of the lease with the team, as the Dome at America's Center failed to remain a top-tier stadium in the league, eventually, after an arbitration ruling, allowing the Rams to enter a year-to-year lease in 2015 before its move in 2016.

"Without a change of venue, (the Rams and NFL) will be denied their constitutional right to a trial before a fair and impartial jury," says their motion, which asks the appeals court to order McGraugh to move the trial outside metro St. Louis "where no prejudice exists."

The defendants asked for the change because the plaintiffs in the case — the city, St. Louis County and the entity that owns the Dome — "have undue influence over the prospective jury pool" in the city, and city residents are prejudiced against the defendants, it says.

In an August decision issued from the bench, McGraugh roundly rejected those arguments, saying there's no evidence that potential city jurors have an inherent bias.

He also said there's no evidence that potential jurors have read pre-trial coverage of the case, and that potential jurors will be questioned thoroughly, "and if they respond to any sort of biased or prejudiced question contained in the questionnaire I'm going to permit that juror to be examined individually by the parties." 

Read the full story on the St. Louis Business Journal website.