A California judge ruled yesterday that the Raiders football team must return next year to Oakland pending final disposition of the city's attempt to wrest control of the team by eminent domain.
Judge Robert O'Farrell, ruling in Monterey County Circuit Court, denied the city's bid for an order directing the Raiders to return to Oakland for the rest of this season, but he reinstated a preliminary injunction barring the Raiders from moving to Los Angeles effective next year.
Last May, in another lawsuit, a federal jury in Los Angeles held that the National Football League had violated antitrust laws in attempting to block the Raiders from relocating to the Los Angeles Coliseum, and the team has played there this season.
In declining to order the Raiders to return to Oakland this year, Judge O'Farrell said that such a move would be a hardship and "they probably would get a cool reception."
Jim Heffernan, a spokesman for the NFL, said the league would have no comment until it could review the court's decision.
Yesterday's decision is one more development in the legal thicket surrounding the Raiders case, and it comes at a time when NFL lobbyists are pushing hard on Capitol Hill for a limited antitrust exemption that would empower the league to order the Raiders back.
"It's the only solution to clear up what is now an unbelievably clouded legal situation," argued Richard L. Sinnott, a lobbyist for the Oakland Coliseum and the city. The legislation is being opposed by the NFL Players Association and others who contend it gives the league unnecessarily sweeping power to regulate relocation of NFL franchises.
Moses Lasky, an attorney representing the Raiders, said the decision came as "a complete surprise. I'm stunned." But Lasky also predicted that the Raiders will not be back in Oakland next year. A team spokesman in Los Angeles said the decision was being reviewed.
"I really don't know what it means," said Al Davis, the team's managing general partner.
"The trial decision in Los Angeles said we could move, but this injunction says we can't," said Davis, whose team, although playing its home games this season in the Los Angeles Coliseum, still uses its old practice field in Oakland.
The Raiders are 4-1, tied for the American Football Conference lead, and have two regular-season home games remaining.