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Lawsuits just part of Games

S.L., as host cities before it, is seeing myriad legal cases

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From people suing Olympic organizers to organizers suing others, the Olympic movement has kept Utah's courtrooms busy — bribery scandal aside.

Salt Lake City, like other Olympic locales before it, is discovering that it takes a lot of legal wrangling to pull off the Games.

Currently, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee is being sued in two independent lawsuits in state court and has successfully gained injunctions in five separate federal suits.

And organizers have threatened to sue many more times than that.

To boot, other courthouse dealings of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee are handled with an air of secrecy.

"There are a lot of legal issues SLOC is involved in and I'm not commenting on any of them," spokeswoman Caroline Shaw said.

One of the "legal issues" SLOC isn't commenting on is a suit organizers reportedly filed under seal in federal court seeking to gain more than $3.5 million from an insurance company to cover legal bills.

Shaw said she is aware of those reports and added that her "no comment" doesn't mean SLOC is denying the suit exists.

Indeed, SLOC seems to keep much of its court actions out of the public view.

Take the case of Connecticut psychologist Charles Bruder, who is suing Olympic organizers because he was allegedly given a job and then unlawfully terminated.

SLOC has filed a protective order in Bruder's suit mandating that "confidentiality is to be maintained both during and after disposition of this case."

The order also requires Bruder and his attorneys not to disclose any case information except to court personnel and expert witnesses, and only then after such witnesses have signed confidentiality agreements.

SLOC's legal travails aren't anything new to Olympic organizers in the United States.

Richard Stogner handled much of the legal wheeling and dealing for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, which organized the 1996 Summer Olympiad.

As deputy chief financial officer for ACOG, he was the man left to dissolve the committee, which officially went out of business Feb. 29, 2000.

Stogner dealt with "hundreds" of lawsuits that stemmed from contract disputes over Olympic-related work.

"They ranged all the way from some guy who did an extra 10 days work and wanted $200 to some that were $1,000 to some that were $1 million," Stogner said.

But in the end, Atlanta's organizers settled most cases before they went to trial.

"The big thing that helped us is there wasn't a lot of money left over. It's like getting blood out of a turnip," Stogner said. "I said 'You can go ahead and litigate this and get a judgment against us but you're not going to get paid because we don't have any money.' "

While Atlanta's organizers purposefully left little money in the bank after the Games — a budget strategy that Salt Lake organizers are mirroring — that wasn't the situation that reigned after the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games. There, organizers left to the city a huge cash legacy, which attracted a large number of suits compared to Atlanta, Stogner said.

"The more money you have, the more suits you get," he said.

One Los Angeles woman even sued because she claimed the Games took away her psychic powers.

Atlanta had its share of seemingly frivolous suits.

One person sued because Olympic fireworks scared him, and another suit was filed after someone claimed hens wouldn't lay eggs after the Olympic hubbub.

"All the crazies come out," Stogner said.

ACOG also took the brunt of hundreds more personal injury suits that were handled through the committee's insurance provider.

Again, such suits ran the gamut. Anything from people's cars that are broken into while on Olympic property to people who slip on an Olympic bus, Stogner said.

And while Salt Lake organizers, like Atlanta, project that only minimal cash will be left after the Games, attorneys are finding creative ways to make sure their clients are paid.

Noel Hyde, on behalf of his client Randy Kelso, is attempting to convince a 2nd District Court judge to freeze at least $1.2 million of SLOC's assets.

Kelso has filed a $1.2 million breach of contract suit against the committee and, if the assets are frozen, would ensure that Olympic organizers couldn't spend the money until they resolve the suit.

"I want to torture them like they have tortured me," said Kelso, who blames SLOC for the demise of his engraving company.

Whether the asset freezing plan works or not, Stogner said SLOC can expect many more suits as the Games pass.

Contributing: Angie Welling

E-mail: bsnyder@desnews.com