Lawyers representing John Kent Cooke yesterday accused New York real estate developer Howard Milstein of engaging in "despicable dirty tricks" to pursue what they called a frivolous lawsuit over Milstein's failed bid to buy the Washington Redskins.
Cooke's legal team filed papers yesterday in D.C. Superior Court asking a judge to throw out Milstein's lawsuit that claims Cooke interfered with his efforts to buy the coveted football franchise. While that request is pending, Cooke's lawyers said they want an order that would bar Milstein's side from acts of "litigation misconduct" and that would exempt Cooke from having to provide any evidence to the other side.
Milstein's attorney, Jonathan D. Schiller, said Cooke was attempting to "distract and delay the court from getting this case to trial. If Cooke has nothing to worry about, why is he so subsumed with delay and distraction? What is he trying to hide?"
The legal broadsides are the latest reminders of the acrimony between Cooke, the former Redskins president, and Milstein, who made competing proposals to buy the team from the estate of Cooke's father, Jack Kent Cooke. As it turned out, the team went to Daniel M. Snyder, a former partner of Milstein's, for $800 million. Cooke has expressed a desire to move on, but Milstein wants $100 million in damages from him.
Yesterday's filing followed revelations that an executive-level employee of Milstein's, Anthony Bergamo, took on an assumed name and tried to elicit damaging information from Cooke and former Redskins general manager Charley Casserly. Posing as "Anthony Burke," Bergamo went undercover to secretly tape Cooke during a meeting in Bermuda last spring.
Among other things, Bergamo got information about Cooke from Cooke's barber and paid the man hundreds of dollars, Cooke's lawyers alleged. In a court deposition, Bergamo acknowledged he contacted Cooke by telephone and pretended he wanted to be a $10 million investor in Cooke's bid, then traveled to Bermuda in hopes of seeing him in person.
Bergamo testified at the deposition that he spent a week in Bermuda before finally encountering Cooke and his wife at a restaurant, where he sent them a $98 bottle of wine and joined them in a conversation that he secretly taped. Cooke's attorneys said Bergamo got no incriminating information but registered plenty of expenses: $6,517.63, which was paid by Milstein's company, Washington Sports Ventures Inc.
The Bermuda meeting took place just before Milstein filed suit against Cooke and Casserly in U.S. District Court, accusing them of conspiring with National Football League owners to derail his $800 million bid for the team. Last month, Milstein moved the litigation to D.C. Superior Court and removed Casserly as a defendant.
Cooke's attorney, Joseph M. Hassett, argued in yesterday's court papers that Bergamo's actions violated ethical standards that bar attorneys from attempting to directly contact parties they are suing, or acting in a dishonest fashion. He alleged Bergamo's conduct "threatens the integrity of the court's fact-finding process."
Schiller insisted that Bergamo acted on his own and not as an attorney and said Hassett's complaints were an effort to cloud the issues. He said Cooke's lawyers also have fought aggressively. It took weeks, he said, before Milstein's team was able to locate Cooke in Bermuda to serve him with a copy of the Superior Court complaint.
CAPTION: Howard Milstein wants $100 million in damages.