Wednesday 20 June 2007

Yet More (Hopefully Last) Jordan Court Case Thoughts

If I remember correctly the judge's verdict on damages/costs in the Jordan v Dowie case is imminent. It will be interesting to say the least, although probably not the last word on the whole affair. It's reasonable to suppose that Jordan will ask the FA (or another body) to look into whether Charlton did indeed do anything untoward; he would seem to have nothing to lose (presumably such a request will cost him nothing and the burden of proof may be less than that required in a court of law) and seems intent on keeping the animosity going. He could of course surprise us all by trying to claim the moral high ground and declaring honour satisfied (yup, pigs might fly).

I'm undoubtedly biased and inclined to a positive interpretation of events when it comes to Charlton's involvement in all of this. And I have absolutely no inside knowledge of what really went on. But it seems to me that there are some salient issues that the judge will presumably be taking into account in his verdict on any damages, with the decision here the real indication of whether Jordan has won, lost or drawn his case.

Why do people/companies decide to take others to court (where the police etc are not involved and there's no blood on the knife)? It is to seek redress for a perceived wrong where material harm, financial or otherwise, has been caused (my words, they seem reasonable to me but I couldn't find an actual legally-accepted term). If there is no material or physical harm, including to reputation, there is no case (for good reason as otherwise we would all be suing each other from the playground on). So the court decides first if there has been material damage done and a case to answer (which in this case it seemingly has) and second what redress is appropriate.

As Jordan/Palace have brought the case, they are presenting themselves as the injured party. But just how have they suffered? Most people it seems believe that Jordan wanted shot of Dowie and he achieved this without having to pay him off. That is a material bonus for Palace as a direct result of the 'compromise agreement'. They only suffered material damage if the £1m compensation clause in Dowie's contract, which Jordan claims he 'waived' as a 'gesture of goodwill', might have imminently come into play as a result of a club seeking Dowie's services.

There is no evidence (I believe) that anyone, including Charlton, was about to do so while Dowie was still manager of Palace - and as soon as he was not and the compromise agreement was in place the compensation clause no longer applies (you couldn't have a compromise agreement which covered this area without defining exactly which clubs he would be free to join without compensation - and in any event such an agreement would, I believe, be invalid on the grounds of unfair restraint of trade). Again, where is the loss that Palace are supposed to have suffered and which should be corrected?

If Charlton had been ready to consider making an approach for Dowie while he was still manager of Palace presumably they would have contacted Jordan to ask permission to talk to Dowie. Indeed, they asked for permission to talk to Parkinson and were refused. By not approaching Palace while Dowie was still manager it is reasonable to suppose either that Charlton were not prepared to take Dowie if the cost was £1m compensation, or they tapped him up. And no evidence has yet been presented to support the latter (if Jordan had such evidence the case against Charlton would presumably not have been dropped).

Did Dowie benefit materially from telling a couple of porkies which Jordan was all too willing to hear/fraudulently misrepresent himself (depending on your interpretation)? Clearly he did, as the judge has ruled. He secured a better job than he could have expected otherwise - one for which he seemed to be ruled out of ahead of the compensation agreement. But did his benefit cause Palace loss? Arguably the person who lost out was the one we would have appointed manager if not Dowie. There seems to be little or no consideration being paid to whether Jordan fraudulently misrepresented his intentions with the compromise agreement, ie that rather than being an act of kindness this was his way of getting rid of Dowie at no extra cost. But I assume this is not strictly relevant as it is Jordan/Palace suing Dowie, not vice versa (should Dowie have counter-sued?).

Did Charlton benefit materially? In theory yes - and they felt so at the time - by securing the services of a manager they believed to be better than any available alternatives without having to pay any compensation. But as long as they did not interview Dowie and/or offer him the job before he was a free agent there was nothing done by Charlton to the detriment of Palace, so no case to answer.

So who stands to gain? First and foremost, as is usually the case, are two legal teams. Somebody's going to end up paying them and if it's Dowie then Jordan has 'succeeded' in transferring some money out of Dowie's pocket and into the legal profession. Congratulations. The judge will presumably be assessing whether damages are due to Palace from Dowie. I assume that these can be either purely corrective (to right the perceived wrong) or punitive (ie involve punishment for wrong-doing and to discourage others). If it is just the former, the balance that Palace saved in disposing of Dowie surely has to be taken into account. The decision presumably has to lie somewhere between £1 and £1m.

If the end result is no punitive damages, just a notional corrective damage (plus costs) to be paid by Dowie to Palace, Jordan emerges claiming victory but having in practise won very little. Indeed, if he puts any reasonable value on his time on any cost-benefit analysis he will have lost money (whether Jordan's time has any value is of course a moot point). He might say it was a point of principle and on this he has been vindicated. Well, congratulations, but it's not quite akin to saving Western civilisation is it?

The courts are meant to be a last resort, a place to go to when all else has failed. Is there any evidence that Jordan tried to contact Dowie or Charlton to try to seek an amicable solution, or did he prefer to try to make a splash at Charlton's press conference? There wasn't much time available, but it only requires a phone call to test the waters. I believe that the courts take a dim view of the litigation-happy; maybe this will be a factor in the final decision on any damages. And if Jordan subsequently involves the FA is nobody going to point out to him that the football community likes to settle its differences without going to court for fear of opening many cans of worms.

It does seem that Murray and the Charlton board made what might be considered at least one mistake in seemingly to gloat over what had happened. They seemed to find it funny (as did most of us, even if the T-shirt was too horrible to buy). Timing and perception are important. After all, if Dowie had left Palace and been unemployed for a few months then taken a job down south with Southampton there would have been no case for him to answer. Even waiting a few days might have been a better option for Charlton to avoid making Jordan look silly - since the danger of being thought to look a fool seems to be significant in Jordan-world.

Again, the courts are meant to be a last resort, not there for the idle rich to go running to at the first perceived slight. Fact is Jordan goes to court because he can afford to lose. It Jordan's self-esteem so thin that he feels the need to seek 'vindication' every time something doesn't go his way (with his crusading lawyers urging him on at every step)? I don't know, I've never met him.

I may of course be wrong in all of this. The judge may take the view that some serious wrong has been committed and penalise Dowie heavily. Judges are not infallible and bring their own baggage to court, however impartial they may try to be, and in cases such as this there are often no clear precedents, the outcome being down to perception and bias. Dowie hardly helped his case with his 'mistakes' over the phone calls. But I would suggest that if any damages to Palace err towards the £1 rather than £1m maximum it is tantamount to the judge declaring a Phyrric victory in a matter that should never have been brought to court and which is now best forgotten by all parties.

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