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Rose Bowl lawsuit aftershocks: Tournament of Roses fights reimbursement of Pasadena’s legal fees

The city of Pasadena is looking for reimbursement after it spent nearly half-a-million dollars in a Rose Bowl Game-related legal battle, but the Tournament of Roses has told the court that the request for attorneys’ fees should be denied.

The motion filed Friday, Aug. 6 by the Tournament of Roses is the latest in a series of moves that started in February, before officials claimed in a lawsuit that they had the ability to shift the Rose Bowl out of Pasadena without the city’s permission if such major events as the coronavirus pandemic forced its hand.

“But the City wrongly contended that its permission is necessary, forcing the Tournament to seek what is known as a ‘declaratory judgment’ in case a situation similar to the one that forced relocation of this year’s Rose Bowl Game were to arise again,” Tournament of Roses officials said Friday evening via a news release.

Pasadena leaders have repeatedly refuted the stance in subsequent filings and maintain a master licensing agreement gives them the right to restrict the game from being played anywhere else.

Amid California’s pandemic-spurred restrictions on crowds last winter, “The Granddaddy of Them All” was played outside of Pasadena — at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas — for the first time since 1942.

Months after the game was played, the Tournament’s lawsuit was ultimately dismissed by U.S. District Court Judge Andre Birotte Jr. in July.

As a result, attorney Kent Raygor petitioned the court to save taxpayers from bearing the brunt of an unprecedented “and ill-fated decision to file and then maintain this suit” by insisting that the Tournament pay the city’s legal fees.

He hopes the court sends a clear message not only to the Tournament of Roses but to others who seek to misuse the court’s and taxpayer’s resources, Raygor said, detailing how the two parties had many opportunities to resolve the dispute throughout late December 2020 and January 2021.

Attorney John Nadolenco, who filed Friday’s motion opposing the awarding of attorneys’ fees, had a different view on how the two partners of more than 100 years got snarled in the court skirmish.

“In painting the City as a victim of excessive bullying through litigation, the City’s fee motion gets reality exactly backwards. It was the City that created the dispute and pushed the Tournament into filing this litigation,” Nadolenco said, by repeatedly demanding that the Tournament surrender portions of its exclusive trademark rights and claiming co-ownership rights.

“We agree that it is unfortunate that taxpayer dollars have been needlessly spent,” Friday’s news release from the Tournament said. “This could have all been avoided had the City not claimed ownership of our trademarks in the first place or refused our numerous requests to meet to resolve the issue.” 

Raygor contends the city made multiple requests to resolve the issue and it is entitled to attorneys’ fees because the Tournament did not achieve its objectives — “namely, to silence the Mayor’s speech on matters of public concern to the citizens of Pasadena,” he said, repeating a belief that Tournament officials filed the lawsuit to gain the court’s permission to move the game to another venue in the future, “and shop it to the highest bidder.”

Tournament of Roses leaders disagreed, explaining the agreement with the City provides that the losing side pays the other’s attorneys’ fees only if the other side “substantially prevails.” 

Mayor Victor Gordo, who has since attempted to get the city and Rose Bowl officials together to reconcile, said he believes the city did prevail legally — and the that judge couldn’t have been any more clear in the ruling issued.

“The judge’s ruling was crystal clear when he ruled in the city’s favor on all issues,” Gordo said in an interview Saturday, adding, “It cannot be said any clearer than the judge said: The heart and soul of the Rose Bowl game belongs to the people of Pasadena. That was true before this needless litigation was brought and it remains true today.”

City Manager Steve Mermell said in a statement shortly before that despite the false accusations of the Tournament of Roses, the City of Pasadena never claimed ownership in any of the Tournament’s trademarks.

“Our court filings prove this and the judge agreed,” he said. “Moreover, with its latest statement the Tournament is signaling its ultimate intention, to market the Rose Bowl Game to the highest bidder regardless of location… The Tournament needlessly hauled the city into court, and we look forward to resolution of this issue by the court also.”

As he highlighted the many reasons why the city cannot be considered the “prevailing party,” Nadolenco said, “it is regrettable that the city’s counsel handled the case in such a patently inefficient manner. But it is galling that the City seeks to shift the excessive costs of such duplicative and unnecessary work to the Tournament.”

Even if the court disagrees with the argument presented by Nadolenco, the Tournament officials are adamant that the more than $400,000 sought by the city is excessive for a case that never even went to trial. Tournament officials have asked that any fees awarded be significantly reduced.

Source: Orange County Register

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