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Rams and Kroenke again try to move trial outside St. Louis in ‘extraordinary’ challenge

Rams fans line up with letters made by Jill Bauer of Columbia, Ill. on Sat. Nov. 14, 2015.
File photo / Camille Phillips
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St. Louis Public Radio
Rams fans cheer the team on in 2015. The team left St. Louis at the end of the 2015 season.

Two weeks after the Missouri Appellate Court and Missouri Supreme Court denied their request to intervene in the lawsuit against them, the Rams and their allies went back to the appeals court. But the odds are steeply against them.

The City of St. Louis, St. Louis County and the local sports authority are suing the Rams, Stan Kroenke and the National Football League over the team’s move to Los Angeles. The Rams parties previously asked St. Louis Circuit Judge Christopher McGraugh to move the January 2022 trial from St. Louis, arguing they can’t get a fair shake in the metro area responsible for the lawsuit against them. McGraugh said no.

See also: ‘The city has the NFL by the throat’: Legal Roundtable discusses into Rams’ litigation

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Lara Hamdan / St. Louis Public Radio
Former appellate court judge Booker Shaw is skeptical about the NFL's chances.

Now the Rams’ latest move, a writ of prohibition filed under seal last Friday, asks the Missouri Appellate Court, Eastern District, to overrule McGraugh and move the trial out of town.

Booker Shaw is skeptical about their chances. A partner at Thompson Coburn, Shaw previously served on the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, for seven years, including one year as chief judge.

“It's called an extraordinary writ for a reason,” Shaw explained on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air. “And we all know — well, the lawyers know — that over 95% of these petitions for writ of prohibition are denied.”

This writ, in essence, asks the appeals court to intervene and block the trial court judge’s actions, saying he’s exceeded his authority or refused to do something the law requires him to do. “Practically speaking, there should be a clear and unequivocal violation of law or an act beyond the judge’s authority to act,” Shaw said.

Shaw suspected that the appellate court would not find that in this case. Motions to change venue are seldom granted.

“The courts have held that pretrial publicity, even adverse publicity, will not alone call for change of venue,” he explained. “Actual prejudice must be shown. And so that is a pretty steep hurdle.”

'A Pretty Steep Hurdle”
Listen to former judge Booker Shaw's analysis of the Rams' chances on St. Louis on the Air

Kroenke and the Rams filed their petition for a writ under seal, arguing that it being seen by the public would result in even more negative publicity that taints the jury pool even further. Shaw suggested that one piece of evidence they may have included would be an opinion poll showing the local populace’s feelings towards its former team. But even that seems unlikely to persuade.

“What will happen sometimes in these cases is that they will have conducted a survey or a poll of citizens in the metropolitan area to show that these people are in favor of the Rams, or in favor of the city in their suit against the Rams,” he said. “But polls are sometimes incorrect, and polls are very different from prospective jurors that might sit in this case.”

Shaw also noted that even if the Rams lose this round, the issue may not be decided.

“They've got to show that the potential jurors have such fixed opinions that they could not be impartial,” he said. “So it could very well be that once they get involved in jury selection, for instance, that they get such responses from potential jurors that they think now, ‘OK, we have a much more substantial basis to make the claim that it should be a change of venue.’”

And that means, once again, it would be back to the appellate court — with another uphill battle.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske joined St. Louis Public Radio as host of St. Louis on the Air in July 2019. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

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