This Sunday, no patdowns

An appeals court bans patdowns at Buccaneers games until it can thoroughly consider the issue and make a final ruling.

Published November 5, 2005

TAMPA - Patdowns at Tampa Bay Buccaneer football games are prohibited, again.

After days of legal wranglings, the 2nd District Court of Appeal weighed in on Friday evening.

The appeals court lifted a ruling by a lower court earlier this week that would have allowed the patdowns to continue at the Buccaneers' game Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.

Instead, the appeals court banned the patdowns until it can thoroughly consider the issue and make a final ruling, a process that could take weeks.

The National Football League mandated the patdowns at the start of the season at each stadium where its 32 teams play, largely to guard against terrorists.

Buccaneer season ticket holder Gordon Johnston, a 60-year-old Valrico high school civics teacher, contested the patdowns and filed a lawsuit against the Tampa Sports Authority last month that claimed the searches violated his constitutional rights.

The Sports Authority runs Raymond James Stadium, where the Buccaneers play home games.

Last week, Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge Perry Little ordered a temporary injunction that barred patdowns at the stadium until the matter could be fully resolved.

But the Sports Authority appealed that decision, which prompted Perry to stay his order until the 2nd District Court of Appeal could weigh in.

Over the next few weeks, the two sides are expected to file written motions to the 2nd District Court of Appeal, outlining their legal arguments.

The appeals court eventually will issue a written ruling on whether Johnston's constitutional rights were violated and whether the patdowns have to stop permanently.

Judge Little has ordered Johnston to post a $21,000 bond to cover the cost of the Sports Authority's legal fees in the event the higher court rules against Johnston.

The case could have implications for other NFL stadiums. The losing side could appeal further up the judicial ladder.

"This saga will continue," said American Civil Liberties Union attorney Rebecca Steele, co-counsel on Johnston's lawsuit. "But we are thrilled with this decision."

Graham Brink can be reached at 727 893-8406 or brink@sptimes.com