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If Only the Rangers Tried This Hard On the Field

A lawsuit stemming from this ugly incident in Oakland in 2004 is so nasty it makes this photo of the brawl look almost quaint.

This almost unbelievable item comes to Unfair Park courtesy our sister paper in Oakland, the East Bay Express, which today breaks the news that a lawsuit involving Your Texas Rangers is turning astonishingly nasty. The suit stems from the September 2004 incident in Oakland, during the infamous brawl in the Oakland Coliseum stands when former Rangers reliever Frank Francisco threw a chair and broke Jennifer Bueno's nose. The Rangers, it is being alleged, are throwing nasty sliders at Bueno and her husband Craig, a firefighter in the Bay Area. The story follows.

First one of its players threw a folding chair that hit his wife in the face and broke her nose at an A's game two years ago. Now the Texas Rangers are throwing mud at Oakland A's fan and heckler extraordinaire Craig Bueno in court. The team's attorneys are threatening to ruin the Hayward firefighter's reputation, and his marriage, by exposing purported past misdeeds, says the couple's lawyer, Gary Gwilliam. "They're trying to blackmail our client," he says.

The Rangers' attorneys at San Francisco law firm Severson & Werson started playing hardball last month, as Jennifer Bueno's personal injury lawsuit neared trial. They sent subpoenas to the city of Hayward, which employs Craig Bueno as a battalion chief, in which they demanded his entire personnel file, including any disciplinary records or complaints of harassment, physical assault, abuse of authority, or dereliction of duty. They also subpoenaed Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko to give a deposition on a murky 2003 incident at Shasta Lake.

It recently came out in court that a private eye employed by the Rangers — the team President Bush co-owned in the early '90s, of course — had been supposedly making the rounds of Hayward firehouses asking firefighters about a naughty picture of a woman. In a sworn declaration on the Buenos' behalf, firefighter Russ Bernard said it seemed the PI was trying to "dig up dirt" on Bueno. As Bernard told it, the PI suggested that the woman in the photo "was in somewhat of a compromising position. It was also intimated that Craig Bueno may have been in the picture."

Understandably, Bernard wondered what the photo had to do with a case in which a chair thrown by relief pitcher Frank Francisco injured Jennifer Bueno. Gwilliam says the photo, which has never surfaced, has nothing to do with the case — just like the other dirt the Rangers have dug up.

The Shasta Lake "incident" was nothing, Gwilliam says, just a hoax started by an anonymous e-mail sent to Hayward councilmembers and fire stations, likely by a disgruntled firefighter. The Shasta County sheriff's office would say only that Bueno was a witness in an alleged sexual assault case in which no one was arrested and no victim ever identified. "They're simply trying to harass Craig and Jennie," Gwilliam says. "And I think they're trying to get them to settle the case."

Even a mediator assigned to the case pulled Gwilliam aside at a conference last month after the Rangers made a "nominal" settlement offer. According to the lawyer's declaration, the mediator described it as a "blackmail offer" and warned that the Rangers' lawyers were intent on exposing Bueno's supposed misdeeds and "ruining his marriage." "It amounts to extortion," Gwilliam fumes. (A judge has since sealed the declaration because mediation proceedings are confidential.)

Attorneys for the Rangers deny they are trying to smear Bueno, whom they have countersued. "We didn't go digging up dirt — these witnesses came to us," Rangers lawyer Joel Halverson told Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch last week.

So Bueno, apparently, has enemies out there willing to dish on him. How are their allegations relevant to his wife's lawsuit? In court papers, the Rangers attorneys suggest that they want to depose city officials to contradict Bueno's self-serving deposition testimony that he's an unblemished hero. They also want to disprove Jennie Bueno's claim that the chair-throwing incident caused her lasting emotional distress. The Rangers' lawyer said he wanted to show that there are other factors in Jennie's life that are responsible for her emotional distress. (Read: Such as being married to a loudmouth jerk.)

The Texas team also argues that Bueno is at least partially responsible for his wife's injuries because of his outrageous taunting of relief pitchers in the visiting bullpen, which ultimately led Francisco to toss the chair. Exactly what Bueno said is a point of contention. Gwilliam insists it was good-natured teasing any big leaguer should expect. Others say Bueno was saying stuff like "I was with your mother last night," and that he told Carlos Almanzar he couldn't make a living as a pitcher and should send his family to Home Depot to find jobs as day laborers. In any event, the Rangers contend in court papers that their investigation shows Bueno to be a shit-starter, "a man who intends to cause trouble and start fights."

Judge Roesch found none of those arguments persuasive, however. He approved Gwilliam's motion to prevent the Rangers lawyers from deposing witnesses to produce what the judge charitably described as "improper character evidence."

The trial is scheduled to start in January. Heckling is discouraged. --Will Harper

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