New Legal Challenge : S.D. Council to Decide Whether to Join Cup Fray

Times Staff Writer

The competition over the America’s Cup, which has traveled from the sea to the courtroom, continues on its journey today when the San Diego City Council meets to decide whether to appeal last week’s court decision approving New Zealand’s challenge to sail for the Cup next year.

On a similar front, officials from the San Diego Yacht Club and the Sail America Foundation, which is responsible for managing the next defense, continued their lengthy round of discussions Monday, in an effort to respond to last week’s decision by New York Supreme Court Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick.

The yacht club and Sail America officials must decide how to accept the challenge by Auckland banker Michael Fay, whose demand that he be allowed to race for the Cup next year in a 90-foot-at-the-waterline yacht was declared valid by the judge.

A Sail America spokeswoman said the yacht club and Sail America are very close to making a decision, which is scheduled to be announced publicly at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the yacht club.


List of Options

Among options being considered are:

- Holding a match race between the yacht club and Fay’s boat in Hawaii, where strong winds would place Fay’s slower boat at a disadvantage.

- San Diego using a multihulled boat such as a catamaran, another tactic considered detrimental to Fay’s single-hulled vessel.


- Appealing the court’s decision to the New York state appellate court.

The decision by the New York court--which has jurisdiction over the 2 1/2-page Deed of Gift that has governed Cup competition since 1887--was a severe setback for San Diego yachting and civic officials, who were in the midst of preparing for an international Cup regatta in 1991, when they expected 20 challengers racing in 12-meter boats, the vessel used exclusively for Cup racing since the 1950s.

The yacht club and Sail America were joined in their courtroom fight against New Zealand by New York Atty. Gen. Robert Abrams, who entered the legal fray at the request of San Diego and Mayor Maureen O’Connor. Abrams agreed to intervene in an attempt to have the Deed of Gift amended so that challenges such as Fay’s could be rejected outright.

O’Connor, according to spokesman Sal Giametta, wants the City Council to “authorize the city attorney to pursue an appeal of the judgment and ask the (New York) attorney general to intervene on behalf of the City of San Diego.”


Assistant City Atty. Curtis Fitzpatrick, who has followed the legal end of the squabble closely for the city, said Monday that the council could decide in closed session today to either intervene directly or attempt to persuade Abrams to appeal. Dr. Fred Frye, commodore of the San Diego Yacht Club, said Monday that yacht club officials expect to attend the closed session.

Abrams told the New York Times last week that he found the decision “unfathomable” and would support an effort to have the ruling overturned.

Should the attorney general decide to appeal, it would give the yacht club and Sail America one guaranteed benefit: time. Under New York law, an appeal by the attorney general would automatically stay Ciparick’s order until the appeal was upheld or rejected, Fitzpatrick said.

This would have the effect of placing on hold the 10-month timetable for a Cup race triggered by Fay’s challenge.


While such an appeal would provide more time, Fitzpatrick also added it could have a negative effect by possibly delaying such things as ongoing preparations for the 1991 regatta under way by the San Diego Unified Port District, which is responsible for building the multimillion-dollar shoreline facilities needed to host the race.

“Do you go ahead and spend the money (for preparations) pending the appeal or do you pick your nose?” he said.

Fitzpatrick said he hasn’t talked to Abrams directly but that the New York law firm hired by the city to represents its interests in the case has been in contact with the attorney general’s office in the wake of last week’s decision.

Fitzpatrick was among several officials and attorneys invited to attend a meeting late Monday afternoon at the office of Latham & Watkins, the law firm representing the yacht club and Sail America.


It’s unclear whether efforts by the city, through the attorney general’s office, would occur independently of any action taken by the yacht club and Sail America, though Fitzpatrick said both sides are cooperating.

Brian Bilbray, the county supervisor who heads the America’s Cup Task Force, said his group’s executive committee has been asked to attend a briefing Wednesday morning, at which the yacht club and Sail America are expected to outline their decision.

He said he talked to California Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp on Monday about what role the attorney general’s office might play in the legal struggle. The discussion, though, was very preliminary, Bilbray said, and no decisions were made.

“Right now we’re just trying to be supportive,” Bilbray said. “We’re not the people who brought it (the Cup) here, so we’re not the ones to say” how to keep it.