Court considers fan suit over Jets-Pats Spygate

The New England Patriots could find themselves defending a

lawsuit by NFL fans miffed about their secret videotaping of

signals from New York Jets coaches.

The NFL bans such videotaping and issued $750,000 in fines

against the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick after they were

caught taping signals at the Jets’ 2007 home opener in Giants

Stadium.

Lawyer Carl Mayer, a Jets season ticket holder, argued in a U.S.

appeals court Wednesday that fans spent vast sums of money to see

games that were essentially rigged. His suit, earlier dismissed by

a lower court, seeks $185 million in damages for Jets fans

alone.

Mayer, who asked the appeals court to revive the suit, said he

hopes to learn the extent of the Patriots’ taping, dubbed Spygate,

through discovery.

“The game will become more and more corrupt if there is no

remedy,” said Mayer, of Princeton, N.J. “The NFL will degenerate

into the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment).”

NFL lawyers insist the Patriots violated only league rules – not

any civil or criminal laws. They fear that disappointed fans will

sue over myriad game day complaints if the case is upheld.

“It will become unmanageable,” lawyer Shepard Goldfein argued

to the three-judge panel, which included a Pittsburgh Steelers

season ticket holder and a judge who confessed to knowing little

about NFL lingo.

U.S. District Judge Garrett Brown Jr. tossed Mayer’s suit last

year, concluding that tickets entitle fans to see nothing more than

the game that unfolds.

However, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals judges peppered

lawyers about the issues for more than an hour Wednesday. Their

ruling could hinge on whether they see the purchase of a Jets

ticket as a contract between fans and the league and whether

consumer protection laws apply.

The NFL argued that a ticket carries only the right to sit in a

certain seat and see a game.

Belichick, the league lawyers said, defended the videotaping to

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell by saying he misunderstood the

rules. Mayer challenged that assertion, alleging the Patriots

turned off the light on the videocamera and used other sleuth

tactics to avoid detection at the game, which they won 38-14.

Senior Judge Robert Cowen seemed perhaps most perturbed about

the videotaping and noted Goodell handed down “a whopper” of a

fine.

“Anyone who’s competed knows there’s a big difference in

knowing what’s coming across the plate,” said Cowen, using a

baseball analogy. “It’s a horrendous violation. No question about

that.”

The suit alleges that the Patriots taped the Jets in their

twice-yearly contests for seven years, and it seeks treble damages

for Jets fans based on a rough average of $100 a ticket.

Goldfein, in questioning, said rabid NFL fans likely would buy

tickets even if they knew the Patriots were stealing signals.

Other types of intelligence gathering are allowed in the NFL,

from using binoculars to look for signals to debriefing new players

and coaches about their last team’s playbooks, co-counsel Daniel

Goldberg argued.

“Where the NFL decided to draw the line was at videotaping the

sideline,” Goldberg said, adding the rules are subject to change

each year.

The judges did not indicate when they would rule.

Judge Gene E.K. Pratter asked how the Patriots had fared during

the seasons in question. The Patriots won the Super Bowl in 2002,

2004 and 2005 and reached the title game in 2008, while the Jets

endured several seasons of mediocrity before making a surprising

run to the AFC championship game last season.

“Prior to that (the start of the videotaping), their record was

as woeful as the Jets,” Mayer replied. “After that, they were the

best team in football.”

“For a while,” quipped Judge D. Michael Fisher, of Pittsburgh,

whose Steelers added to their storied franchise history with

championships in 2006 and 2009.