December 9, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
It began with a joyful family celebration after the long-awaited return of NHL hockey to Winnipeg.
It ended months later in tears, profanity and threats. Now, there's an ugly legal battle over two prized season tickets.
The high price of Jets games has prompted many people to form partnerships to share a pair of season tickets, and experts warned from the start these handshake-only pacts could result in legal problems.
This week's civil trial is the first about Jets tickets, court was told.
Manitoba Queen's Bench Justice Morris Kaufman, playing the role of civil court referee, will deliver his decision this afternoon. After two days of often biting evidence, Kaufman must decide which of two vastly different stories he believes.
John Longstaff, a 73-year-old Air Force veteran, has attended professional hockey games in Winnipeg since 1973. He is the registered owner of two P2 seats at the MTS Centre, seats 3 and 4 in row 12, section 117, which he purchased in advance of the public in the summer of 2011 thanks to his status as a Manitoba Moose ticket-holder.
Darlene Gibb is a 70-year-old self-proclaimed hockey nut who claims she has been robbed of the season tickets after Longstaff breached an oral agreement between the two. Gibb is Longstaff's sister-in-law.
"There's really two stories here. One's black. One's white. Someone at the end of the day is not telling the truth," lawyer Jamie Kagan, who is representing Gibb, told court this week.
Longstaff admits he agreed to transfer ownership of his tickets to Gibb but says it would only be after his death.
Gibb claims Longstaff promised to do it after the first season, when True North allowed for such transfers.
"He didn't want his two tickets. He preferred the Moose to the NHL, said NHL players got paid too much," Gibb testified this week.
For the first season, Gibb took 29 regular-season tickets while Longstaff took 12. Longstaff paid True North Sports & Entertainment directly for his tickets, but Gibb and her son had the financing put in their name and also paid the $2,000 mandatory deposit, in addition to their 29 games.
Gibb claims Longstaff backed out of the deal because he wasn't happy with the games he received during their initial ticket draft. "He told me he didn't like the way things had gone and didn't want to transfer the tickets over. He said he didn't get to some games he wanted to, especially the Anaheim game," she said.
Longstaff, who also testified, doesn't deny being sour about missing out on Teemu Selanne's return to Winnipeg with the Anaheim team.
"Selanne and (former head coach Randy) Carlyle are a couple of our favourites, we had watched him through this whole process," he said.
But Longstaff said he always intended to keep his tickets while he's alive, with the idea of sharing them with many other friends who are hockey fans that he'd taken to games during the past 40 years.
He claims Gibb was well aware of this and is now trying to fool the court.
"I told her my friends were going to get tickets from me because they've been going for years," said Longstaff. "I had no intention of giving up my hockey tickets. Never have. In winter time, that's what I do: go to hockey games and have coffee with friends."
Longstaff claims Gibb's son, Ian, went to his house and began threatening him after the first season ended and Longstaff informed them he would only give them about a dozen tickets for season two. "He was saying 'effin this, effin that.' He was really riled up. I thought he was going to attack me."
Darlene Gibb tells a different story, saying Longstaff threatened her. "I said 'You reneged on the deal, so we'll have to get a lawyer involved.' He said 'Then I'll call the police and report you for a home invasion,' " she told court.
A lawyer for True North has been observing the trial this week, and a season-ticket representative testified about the team's policies. He told court about 700 people transferred ownership of tickets after season one, and this is believed to be the only case that didn't go smoothly and ended up in court.
Gibb said the court case could have been avoided if Longstaff had agreed to purchase four season tickets, not two, and give two of them to her as she originally requested. But she claims Longstaff didn't want two tickets of his own because of his age, poor health and the high cost.
Kagan argued that alone is a sign his client is telling the truth and Longstaff changed the rules along the way.
Gibb said the ordeal has fractured their family. She recalled taking a Winnipeg Jets cake over to Longstaff's home on the day they got the tickets. "This was quite exciting, a big deal to get these tickets," she said.
Gibb is seeking a declaration from the court that the tickets must be transferred to her because a contract has been violated. She is not seeking further damages and has agreed to allow Longstaff to buy tickets to 12 games until his death, just as he did last year.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 13, 2013 B1