Bengals Lawyer Fumbles

This week’s issue of CityBeat contains a lengthy letter from Stuart Dornette, the longtime lawyer for the Cincinnati Bengals, objecting to several items reported in a March 14 cover story about team owner Mike Brown and his threat to move the Bengals to Baltimore in 1995.

The sheer length of Dornette’s letter, which was four pages long, left little space for CityBeat’s reply to its many assertions. The letter contains 1,603 words — almost half the length of the original article’s 3,893 words, which had background information and interviews with multiple sources.

The Bengals must pay Dornette either by the word or by the hour; some of the points in his reply already were covered in the article.

In fact, Dornette was quoted more extensively than anyone else in the story. He had more quotations (six) to directly convey his point of view than those expressed by Hamilton County Commission President Todd Portune (four), former Cincinnati Mayor Roxanne Qualls (four) or anti-tax activist Tim Mara (three). Each of Dornette’s quotations was expounded upon with paraphrased comments in paragraphs surrounding them.

Also, Dornette writes that the article was based on two premises — in his words, that the terms the Bengals could’ve received from Baltimore were secret and intentionally withheld from Hamilton County during lease negotiations and that the Baltimore deal “was not a very good deal at all.” Those assertions inaccurately characterize what the article states — as a good lawyer like Dornette should know.

First, the article clearly states that the deal offered to the Bengals was information that Hamilton County officials could have known in the late 1990s but chose not to or knew and deliberately kept from taxpayers. The article doesn’t state that no county official knew about the deal, just that the public or even most elected officials didn’t generally know about it at the time.

This point is underscored in the article by Qualls, who was Cincinnati’s mayor at the time and was involved in the pro-sales tax campaign; by Portune, who was a city councilman at the time; and by Mara, who led the campaign against the sales tax.

Moreover, in other interviews, former county staffers and local elected officials stated they had no knowledge about the specifics of the deal offered to the Bengals by Baltimore. Some of the subjects were surprised by the details mentioned in the Maryland Stadium Authority’s letter.

Second, Dornette’s letter states that the article mentioned that the Baltimore deal “wasn’t very good at all.” The article never makes that assertion, but merely compares provisions of the deal with the one the Bengals received in Cincinnati. As the article states: “Some county officials and sports franchise experts say focusing only on revenues significantly misstates the full value received by the Bengals by staying in Cincinnati. Although the Bengals’ revenues generally are low compared to other teams, its profit margin likely is higher — especially with the county agreeing to pick up so many other expenses.”

Also, the MSA’s letter wasn’t known to elected officials or their staffers during the 1995-97 era. As the article states, county staffers only became aware of its existence last year during the discovery process in the county’s lawsuit against the team.

Dornette’s assertion that CityBeat stated the Bengals committed a fraud are inaccurate. A sub-headline states: “Was it a threat or ‘a fraud?’” The single quotation marks around “a fraud” refer to direct quotes from Portune and Mara.

Additionally, the MSA’s letter does mention a local ownership component in Baltimore, and sources connected to negotiations tell CityBeat that some form of local ownership would’ve been required in Baltimore.

Finally, expenses for Baltimore’s stadium — as reported in CityBeat and other media — total about $220 million; Paul Brown Stadium alone cost $377.6 million, excluding debt financing, land acquisition and site preparation.

Besides the stadium’s expense, the Bengals deal is better in other aspects. Some sports columnists have called the Hamilton County deal “the cushiest deal in the NFL” and the fine print in the stadium lease seems to bear that out.

In Baltimore, the Ravens pay all maintenance costs for the stadium, while the Bengals only pay for game-day costs. The Bengals insisted on construction of a new training facility, while the Ravens use the former Colts facility.

Although the Ravens pay no rent, the Bengals pay about $11.7 million total in rent for the first nine years in Paul Brown Stadium. But the lease requires Hamilton County to pay the Bengals about $30 million to play in the taxpayer-funded stadium for the last nine years of the lease. The payments begin with $2.67 million in 2017 and increase 5 percent each year.

If Dornette and Mike Brown truly are serious about clearing the record about how the team’s lease was reached, they should allow a no-holds-barred interview with Bengals staffer Bob Bedinghaus. Bedinghaus is the now-reclusive Green Township resident who was the county commissioner overseeing lease negotiations before voters ousted him from office and the team hired him.

— Kevin Osborne

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6 Comments on “Bengals Lawyer Fumbles”

  1. Sam Robinson Says:

    Why did CityBeat print the looooooong response? It didn’t bring any new or more reliable information to readers. In fact, it read like nothing but hot air.

    It would have been more fun to tweak the guy by refuting/ridiculing selected excerpts from his submission — excerpts of your or your editor’s choosing. Allowing the guy 400-500 words to blow his smoke in print would have been more than generous for a letter to the editor. 1603 words is way overkill.

    Did the Bengals threaten CityBeat?

  2. Kenny Says:

    Taking a “letter to the editor” apart piece by piece like that is amateurish. Leave that to the Dean. I think it’s cool that the bengal guy had his say. It’s a pretty big deal for the Bengals to get so worked up over a critical newspaper article that they’d have their lawyer respond to that extent. Good job, Citybeat.

    As for threats, if that was true, I don’t think they would have responded in print and on this blog at all.

  3. Bengal Berding Says:

    “Taking a “letter to the editor” apart piece by piece like that is amateurish. Leave that to the Dean.”

    Kenny, why shouldn’t CityBeat (or the Dean) respond to the “letter to the editor”. At least City Beat and the Dean allow people to have their say unedited. The Enquirer cuts up letters that are less than 200 words if their not ignoring them. The Enquirer wouldn’t crtiticize the Bengals no matter how fraudulent the deal. Screw the Bengals! Bob Bendinhaus should be wearing prison stripes instead of tiger stripes. I agree with Sam. The Bengals should have to buy that much ink.

  4. Kenny Says:

    Fair enough. But I think just running the letter in full, letting it speak for itself, says plenty enough. Let him bury himself. Readers are smart. They’ll get that. The response in print and on this blog debunking it all just hammers it hoime.

  5. Neal Watzman Says:

    It doesn’t matter how Mr. Dornette or the Bengals spin things, the voters of Hamilton County were sold down the river, literally, by politicians like Bobby Bengalhaus, shirking their responsibility to the county to work in their own self interest.

    As a result of that cushy arrangement, our community suffers, and our children and their children will likely pay the freight for this poor decision.

  6. Stripes Says:

    Kenny is right, the letter does speak for itself. The Bengals sure are defensive about the points raised in the story, but at least they have their say in the letter. Citybeat shouldn’t fall into the same trap and get all defensive too. With Paul Daugherty’s column in yesterday’s Enquirer about the Brown family being cheap, I wonder when we’ll see a 1,600 word response in the Enquirer. How about Sunday?

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