The taxpayers of Cobb County, Georgia are already on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars for the Atlanta Braves’ shiny new stadium, Sun Trust Park. Now the Braves want close to $5 million more.
You’d think that, given the taxpayers’ gratuitous generosity to the massive media conglomerate which owns the Braves, thereby relieving it of having to pay for its own dang office, such a request would be made politely and with at least some humility. But nah. The Braves’ lawyers are being pretty dang rude about it, actually.
All of this can be found in an investigative report by 11Alive.com, Atlanta’s NBC affiliate. 11Alive uncovered a series of letters between outside attorneys for Cobb County and attorneys for the Braves revealing continuing disputes over stadium costs and report that the entire matter is now in private mediation. The back and forth leading up to that arbitration is particularly tasty.
By last spring a number of disputes had cropped up involving post-construction work on the stadium. As a lot of people know, things like pedestrian bridges, signage and access to the park were late additions, so the Braves and the County entered into a bunch of agreements on how that and other ongoing maintenance and fee issues related to the stadium would be handled. Back in early May there was a meeting at SunTrust Park about all of this, with both sides bringing their lawyers.
Fun personal disclosure: the county’s outside construction law lawyers are from the Cleveland-based law firm Thompson Hine which, from 2003 through the end of 2008, employed your author. Your author even did some construction law back then and attended meetings like this one on occasion. I went to one at a minor league hockey rink project in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, for example. They’re usually pretty boring! The place is already built, everyone loves it and now the owners and maybe the construction company are quibbling over, like, who was supposed to pay for the urinal pucks and the fancy light sconces in the luxury suites that are shaped like catcher’s mitts. Yes, it’s litigation, but as far as litigation goes, it’s pretty calm, mostly because a lot of construction lawyers have backgrounds in construction work, architecture and engineering (i.e. real jobs, not fighting-over-money jobs) and thus skew way more chill than, say, your average tax or divorce lawyer does. Usually beers are cracked after these meetings for crying out loud.
Not here! After everyone went back to their offices, my old friends at Thompson Hine, representing Cobb County, sent the Braves’ lawyers a demand letter stating their position regarding the disputed funds. It was a pretty normal demand letter. The Braves’ lawyers shot back with what the article characterizes — and which I concur — is a super snotty and unprofessional response.
Rather than just discuss the brass tacks, the guy makes a point to criticize Cobb County even bringing the lawyers to the meeting, calls it legal malpractice, makes all kinds of noises about how Cobb County is wasting taxpayer money — super ironic noises, I’ll add, given that the Braves are feeding at the teet of Cobb County taxpayers — and how, if this thing goes to court, he’s going to disqualify their lawyers and call them as witnesses. If you read the letter, reproduced over at 11Alive.com, your eyes may glaze over after the dude gets into contract language and stuff, but trust me, that thing was way out of line for this kind of dispute and, in my opinion, super unprofessional.
There was more back and forth after that — Cobb County’s lawyers made note of the Braves’ lawyer’s unprofessionalism and attempted to move on — but no resolution. That’s why they’re now in mediation. Mediation, 11Alive.com notes, that the public is not privy to. They’ll just have to learn after the fact how much more money they’ll have to give the Atlanta Braves. For what it’s worth, Cobb County and the Braves — not the lawyers, the actual officials — say all is well and rosy and that their partnership is strong and isn’t everything lovely. Which, yes, it likely is even if their lawyers hate each other. Everyone’s either getting rich or else gets nice seats for ballgames that they don’t have to personally pay for out of the deal.
All of this, though, is just reminder number 11,459 that giving hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to extraordinarily wealthy private for-profit businesses that, in reality, had absolutely no leverage to demand it in the first place yet got it anyway because politicians love to kiss the butts of big time sports, is a terrible idea.
Both on the merits and because, as the rude Braves lawyer notes in his letter, it costs a LOT of money for lawyers to yell at each other, especially when they’re yelling over billion dollar projects.
(thanks to J.C. Bradbury for the heads up)