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    Judge settles suit between Bucs, fans

    The settlement allows the fans who sued first to pick better seats at the stadium.

    By DAVID KARP

    © St. Petersburg Times, published September 29, 2000


    TAMPA -- Even though a few Tampa Bay Buccaneer fans wanted to keep fighting, a Hillsborough circuit judge approved an end Thursday to one of the most unusual legal battles between a National Football League team and its fans.

    Judge Sam Pendino approved a settlement Thursday between the Bucs and unhappy season-ticket holders who paid in 1995 to reserve a seat in the yet-to-be built Raymond James Stadium.

    "It is time for the community to put this issue behind us -- and play ball," said attorney Jonathan Alpert, who represented the unhappy fans.

    Fans who ended up with worse seats in the new stadium claimed the team didn't keep its promise to assign seats based on a season-ticket holder's seating history. Six fans hired Alpert in 1999 to sue the Bucs.

    The settlement approved Thursday allows the fans who sued first to pick from among 120 seats, about one-third of them in choice sections near the 50-yard line. It also gave them a $5,000 credit for the purchase of tickets and parking, and the team also agreed to pay $180,000 in attorneys fees and $30,000 for legal costs.

    The remainder of the 120 seats were made available to 17,000 longtime season-ticket holders through a random selection process supervised by a court-appointed hearing master. Those fans had to be willing to give up their current seats and were only eligible for available seats in the same price category. Season-ticket holders were mailed a letter from the Bucs detailing the arrangement.

    While Alpert and Bucs attorney Arnie Levine agreed on the deal in June, the court still had to approve it.

    Before doing that, the judge wanted to give the eligible season-ticket holders a chance to consider the deal.

    Three of them spoke against the settlement in court Thursday; about 250 others decided to get out of the class-action lawsuit, leaving them with the right to file a separate lawsuit over the issue.

    Myles Friedland, an aerospace engineer with season tickets, asked Pendino to force the Bucs to reassign seats for all the affected fans.

    "Why not do the right thing?" Friedland said. He said more fans did not oppose the settlement because they feared losing their seats altogether.

    "They used this document to intimidate season-ticket holders," Friedland said about the settlement terms mailed to fans.

    Friedland and lawyer Lisa Cullaro, who represents her father, told Pendino they planned to appeal his decision. A third fan, Brian Schall, said he will speak to an attorney about his options.

    As it turned out, only four fans entered the lottery for new seats, giving those four fans excellent odds of getting prime seating.

    - David Karp can be reached at (813) 226-3376.

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