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Stuff that matters

When Rams owner Stan Kroenke hosts the first Super Bowl at his new stadium in California next February, he’ll also be dealing with the biggest potential mess associated with the relocation of his team.

Via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a Missouri judge said this week that he plans to start the trial of the lawsuit filed by St. Louis against the Rams on January 10, 2022. The Super Bowl, assuming a seventeenth regular-season game, will happen on February 13, 2022.

The delay in the trial date (October had been the target) arises from guidelines regarding the reopening of courts and the presence of jurors, given the ongoing pandemic. The trial is expected to last two months.

The first step will be finding a proper jury.

“I think it’s going to be a challenge here to get a jury panel that can be fair and impartial,” NFL lawyer Jerry Carmody told the judge during a recent hearing.

“I agree getting a jury in this case is going to be the most difficult part about this trial,” Judge Christopher McGraugh conceded, adding that he plans to use detailed questionnaires to help spot potential biases in advance of the formal questioning of potential jurors.

The lawsuit, in which the plaintiffs apparently will try to recover more than $1 billion in damages, argues that the league and the Rams violated internal relocation procedures in authorizing the return of the Rams to Los Angeles, more than 20 years after St. Louis lured the Rams from L.A.

Although the broader jury pool surely consists of disgruntled Rams fans who would love to stick it to Stan, the reality is that there are plenty of non-football fans, in every market. Indeed, fewer than 100 million Americans watched this year’s Super Bowl, even though the country has more than 350 million people in it. Indeed, the best threshold question for any and all prospective jurors would be whether they watched all or part of Super Bowl XXXIV, Super Bowl XXXVI, and/or Super Bowl LIII, each of which featured the Rams. If the answer is no as to each of those three Super Bowls, it’s safe to say the person wasn’t and isn’t a Rams fan.

For the lawyers defending the Rams and the NFL, however, it’s important to start building the “unfair jury” angle as a potential excuse to be used later. If/when lawyers lose at trial, there’s a natural reluctance to attribute the outcome to their own mistakes and to focus instead on the notion that the jury was biased, the judge wasn’t fair, and/or the system is corrupt.