U.S. District Judge Peter K. Leisure today denied a request by the lead attorney for the U.S. Football League to disallow "football fans" from becoming jurors in the USFL's $1.32 billion antitrust suit against the National Football League.
After almost 19 months of trial preparation, the selection process of jurors began today. Besides attorneys for the two sides, the most prominent interested parties in the courtroom were NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, USFL Commissioner Harry Usher and Donald Trump, owner of the USFL's New Jersey Generals.
Attorney Harvey Myerson of the USFL filed a memorandum that read, in part: the "plaintiffs USFL cannot imagine how any football fan, with the deep-seated even subliminal loyalties associated with being a fan, could be deemed an impartial juror."
However, Leisure declined to honor the request, saying: "I have no intention of disqualifying someone because he or she is a football fan, any more than I would disqualify someone as broad gauged as . . . if they read the Sunday comics."
The USFL suit alleges that the NFL violated Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Antitrust Act by "tying up" all three television networks. Since it decided to move from a spring schedule to the fall in 1986, the USFL has been unable to secure a network contract.
Besides damages, the USFL is seeking an injunction to force the NFL off at least one network so that the USFL might negotiate a deal of its own with that network.
The trial is expected to last between six weeks and 10 weeks. Twelve jurors will be selected, including six alternates. Two separate panels of potential jurors, numbering nearly 150, were brought into the courtroom today. In all, 89 were dismissed after they offered reasons why they could not participate. The selection process should end Tuesday or Wednesday and will be followed by both side's opening statements.
"I don't think there will be any major curveballs in the trial that either side doesn't expect," Usher said. "I know what we're going to do, and I think I know what they'll do."
Usher reiterated that the USFL will play a fall season, regardless of the outcome of the trial, but added: "The long-term future of the USFL is dependent on this trial."
Leisure also indicated that he will admonish the final 12 jurors not to read newspapers or watch television during the trial "because of the interest in the press and the positions taken by various reporters as far as what their views are of the case."