Friday, January 12, 2001

3 judges to make call in fans' suit


Irate Bengals ticket holders want trial

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The dispute between disgruntled Bengals fans and the club over their Paul Brown Stadium seat locations is in the hands of a three-judge panel of the Ohio 1st District Court of Appeals.

        In 45 minutes of oral arguments Thursday before the three appellate judges, Janet Abaray, attorney for the fans who filed a class-action lawsuit in September, argued that the fans should be able to have their complaints heard in court, before a jury.

        Bengals attorney Robert Stachler argued that the disputes between the football club and individual fans should be resolved out of court, by an arbitrator.

        It will be up to the judges — Robert Gorman, Lee Hildebrandt and J. Howard Sundermann Jr. — to decide whether the lawsuit should go to trial.

        It is not known when the judges will make their decision.

        If the dispute does go to trial, the issue will be whether the season ticket holders were defrauded when they were assigned seats in the new football stadium that were not equal to the seats they had been promised or had paid for.

        Up until Dec. 31, the Bengals were taking requests from season ticket holders to have their seat locations changed.

        But, in mid-December, the three-judge panel ordered the Bengals to stop changing seat locations for season ticket-holders until the appeals court could decide whether the fans suing the team could go ahead with their class-action lawsuit.

        The case ended up before the appeals court because, in November, Common Pleas Court Judge Robert Ruehlman ordered that the fans' dispute should go to trial and not to arbitration.

        Mr. Stachler argued that it is better to allow the Bengals to settle disputes with fans out of court.

        “You would have a more speedy, more efficient handling of complaints that are essentially individual,” Mr. Stachler said.

        But Ms. Abaray argued that the fans should be allowed to sue because they were not told about the arbitration process for seat-location complaints until after they had sent Hamilton County a payment for a charter ownership agreement (COA).

        That agreement entitled them to buy Paul Brown Stadium seats from the Bengals. Hamilton County sold the COAs and has sided with the Bengals in the lawsuit.

       



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