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Spygate lawsuit lives, at least for now

Our friends at the Associated Press, when not acknowledging valid reports of Super Bowl MVPs being suspended for 25 percent of the coming season, spend their time suggesting that an apparently frivolous lawsuit has more merit than it actually possesses. Or, for that matter, any merit at all.

To the untrained eye, the article from David Porter of the AP reads as if Carl Mayer and Bruce Afran have a proverbial tiger by the tail in connection with a class action filed regarding the Spygate scandal of 2007, which prompted the league to fine the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick a total of $750,000 for admittedly videotaping defensive coaching signals during games. Specifically, Mayer and Afran sued the Patriots and Belichick for more than $184 million in damages based on the argument that Jets’ ticket holders were defrauded during eight games at the Meadowlands during Belichick’s tenure due to the cheating. (The Patriots won all but one of the games.)

In the ninth paragraph of the article, the truth regarding the supposed viability of the lawsuit finally is explained -- in March 2009, a federal judge in Trenton, New Jersey dismissed the case, explaining that the buyer of a ticket to a sporting event is entitled only “to view whatever event transpires.” Wednesday’s oral argument before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit represents the final step in Mayer and Afran’s automatic right to appeal.

But the fact that the case is hanging by its last tattered thread never quite comes through in Porter’s article, due in large part to the omission of any statement regarding the Patriots’ position, which arises from the contention that an attorney representing the Patriots did not return a Tuesday telephone message.

And the article was pushed on Tuesday evening.

As most journalists (and even guys like me who pretend to be one) know, it’s unreasonable to expect a practicing lawyer to return a phone call on the same day a message is left. Lawyers routinely are away from the office for hearings and depositions and trials.

We realize that the Associated Press believed it made sense to push a story onto the wire in advance of Wednesday’s hearing. By why not try to get the comment from the Patriots before the day the story was due to be published?

Failing that, why not at least run a quote or two from the brief submitted on behalf of the team?

Of course, that approach could have undermined the apparently intended message that the lawsuit’s death spiral is actually the warm up for a touchdown celebration.