SBJ/June 4 - 10, 2001/No Topic Name

Padres’ critics to appeal loss of ballpark suit

Opponents of the San Diego Padres' proposed downtown ballpark said they would appeal a Superior Court ruling that, if upheld, would remove the last significant legal obstacle to the ballpark's construction.

Attorney Bruce Henderson said the opponents would waive arguments on the remaining issues in the lawsuit and file an appeal of the ruling, which found no basis to overturn the city's ballpark agreement with the Padres.

Plaintiffs Jerry Mailhot and Bruce Skane claimed in the lawsuit that Padres owner John Moores' gifts to City Councilwoman Valerie Stallings, and a pattern of courting other city officials, tainted the city's support.

Stallings was forced to resign after pleading guilty to two misdemeanors. Moores was cleared of any wrongdoing. In his May 25 ruling, Superior Court Judge E. Mac Amos Jr. rejected the argument.

Henderson said the ruling did not dismiss the plaintiffs' central argument that Moores' gifts created a "conflicting interest" for city officials.

"They certainly have reason for optimism," Henderson said, "but it isn't over."

The Padres had hoped to move to the $450 million ballpark in April 2002 but are now looking at a mid-2003 opening at the earliest. Construction has been halted since last October because of pending legal action.

But Padres executives have long considered the Skane-Mailhot lawsuit to be the biggest roadblock. The city, which would pay $208.5 million toward the ballpark under a revised funding plan, must now decide whether the coast is clear enough to sell bonds.

City officials would not comment on whether they were prepared to issue bonds. Padres senior vice president Bob Vizas said the ruling "puts to rest any claims" that would thwart the ballpark.

Henderson disagreed. He said the plaintiffs will argue on appeal that the gifts created "divided loyalties" among public officials who then voted to support the ballpark plan in 1999.

Stallings, according to her plea agreement, admitted to taking gifts and travel from Moores and failing to report them to the state. Henderson said this "created an environment where Stallings thought she would have a special relationship with Moores if she supported the project."

"The [appeals] court has to decide whether or not that creates a conflict of interest on her part," Henderson said.

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