Monday, September 23, 2013
Wilfs owe $84.5M, but not for awhile
By Ben Goessling
MINNEAPOLIS -- Judge Deanne Wilson came down hard on the Wilf family on Monday afternoon, ordering the Vikings owners to pay $84.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages to their business partners in a 21-year-old lawsuit.
But if the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority's review of the Wilfs' finances hadn't already underscored the obvious point that an eight-figure judgment won't derail a family rich enough to own a NFL team, something the Wilfs' lawyers said in a Monday afternoon conference call drove home a reminder of why the lawsuit never put the Vikings' new stadium in jeopardy.
The Wilfs can -- and will -- appeal the ruling, attorneys Shep Guryan and Peter Harvey said on Monday afternoon, and that could tie this case up in court for another two to three years. In other words, it will be a long time before the Wilfs would have to write a check for the damages, and by that point, the owners' pockets could already be lined with revenues from the $975 million stadium scheduled to open in 2016.
"There will be an opening kickoff before this is finalized," Guryan said.
Wilson stayed the order to make the Wilfs' net worth public, and the owners' attorneys said they would fight to keep that figure private. The other key development from the ruling is that the case will be referred to a New Jersey criminal court, thanks to a state law that requires the attorney general to investigate any lawsuits that involve punitive damages.
But there's now a ceiling on what kind of a financial dent the case will make. No matter how squeamish you feel about the Wilfs' business dealings -- and you certainly have a right to feel that way -- the big machine will keep rolling, and the Vikings will continue on their way to a new home by 2016.
Team vice president Lester Bagley said on the conference call that the Vikings are making progress on lease and development agreements with the MSFA, and anticipated they could be done soon. From a financial perspective, at least, the Wilfs' lawsuit shouldn't delay that process much more, if at all, especially considering how long it could still be before they have to part with any money.