A U.S. District Court judge yesterday ordered former Washington Redskins president John Kent Cooke to be deposed by lawyers for real estate mogul Howard Milstein, who has filed suit against Cooke alleging that Cooke helped defeat Milstein's attempt to purchase the Redskins.
The order by Judge Emmet G. Sullivan in the District requires Cooke to turn over documents by Sept. 7 and be deposed by Sept. 15 as part of an effort to determine whether Cooke resides in Bermuda.
Cooke, 57, has claimed in court documents that he is not under the jurisdiction of the U.S. District Court because he is a resident of Bermuda, a British dependency not subject to U.S. laws, and therefore the suit should be dismissed. Milstein's lawyers have argued in motions that Cooke was still a resident of the District of Columbia when Milstein filed the suit on May 17. The suit also alleged that General Manager Charley Casserly also obstructed Milstein's attempts to buy the team.
The judge's order states that the deposition take place at the offices of Milstein's lawyers and that it not exceed four hours. Cooke's lawyer, Joseph M. Hassett of Hogan & Hartson, declined to comment. David Boies, a lawyer for Milstein, was unavailable, according to Boies's secretary at his New York law offices.
Milstein has claimed in legal papers that Cooke moved to Bermuda to avoid paying District income taxes on his share of his father's estate, believed to be around $60 million. His father, Jack Kent Cooke, died in April 1997. Bermuda has no income tax; the District levies a 9.5 percent income tax.
The Redskins were the biggest asset in the elder Cooke's estate. Milstein won the bidding for the team, beating out John Cooke and others with a bid of $800 million. But Milstein's purchase did not receive the required approval of NFL owners. Milstein's minority partner, Bethesda businessman Daniel M. Snyder, eventually led a group that purchased the team for $800 million in May.
In a statement released in June, Cooke, who lived in Washington for several decades, said he had become a resident of Bermuda but is retaining his U.S. citizenship. Cooke said at the time that he would sell or rent his Georgetown home.
"I have become a resident of Bermuda, an island my wife and I have visited and enjoyed over the years and where we have always intended to have a home," Cooke said in his statement.
Legal scholars said Sullivan is trying to find evidence as to whether Cooke actually has established permanent residency in Bermuda.
"Fundamentally, the question is one of intent . . . whether you are physically in the place and have the intent to make it your home," said Wendy C. Perdue, associate dean for research at the Georgetown University Law Center.
"What [the court] would look for is evidence that someone has done the things you expect them to do when they truly move. Have you sold the house? How long have you lived in Bermuda? What is your place of residence, a hotel room or an elaborate home? What have they taken there? Where are the family photo albums?"
Perdue said the deposition will include questions about Cooke's social connections in Bermuda as well.
"Have you joined a new church? What clubs have you joined? What affiliations?" said Perdue.
If Cooke convinces the court that he is a resident of Bermuda, Milstein's suit would likely be dismissed. He could re-file the case in a state court, according to legal scholars, who said this round went to Milstein, but it is too early in the legal process to declare who might win.
"It would have been a defeat for the plaintiff if [the deposition] had not been ordered," said John B. Corr, professor of law at American University. "But it's not necessarily a victory for the plaintiff either because it could still work out that Cooke proves to be a citizen of Bermuda."