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Authority calls patdowns vital

Terrorism's potential outweighs a Valrico man's privacy rights, it tells an appeals court.

By CANDACE RONDEAUX, Times Staff Writer
Published November 18, 2005

TAMPA - Attorneys for the Tampa Sports Authority have fired off their latest salvo in the ongoing battle over patdowns at Raymond James Stadium.

In a brief filed with the 2nd District Court of Appeal on Thursday, the attorneys said concerns about potential terrorist threats trump the privacy rights of a Valrico man who sued the Sports Authority.

The National Football League mandated security patdowns this season at each of the stadiums where its 32 teams play. High school civics teacher and Tampa Bay Buccaneers season ticket holder Gordon Johnston filed a lawsuit against the authority in October, claiming the patdowns are unconstitutional.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Perry Little issued a temporary injunction against the patdowns until the case could be fully resolved. When the Sports Authority appealed his preliminary order, Little allowed patdowns to continue. The 2nd DCA halted patdowns Nov. 4 after several weeks of legal wrangling in Hillsborough courts.

The Sports Authority's response to Johnston's appeal said, "Terrorism is a genuine and serious threat to NFL games." It said Johnston and other Bucs fans had been given fair warning about the searches, and it sharply contradicted Johnston's claim that the patdowns threaten his right to be free of unreasonable searches.

"There is no constitutional right to watch a professional football game in person. Forgoing that experience is not comparable to forgoing interstate travel, yet in numerous security search cases courts have upheld as consensual air-traveler searches to prevent terrorist attacks," the brief said.

Rebecca Steele, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer and co-counsel on Johnston's case, said she had not yet read the Sports Authority's brief and declined to comment.

A late afternoon message for Sports Authority attorney Rick Zabak was not returned Thursday. The ban on patdowns will remain in place until the 2nd DCA rules on Johnston's lawsuit. That decision is not expected for several weeks.

[Last modified November 18, 2005, 01:27:15]

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