Court clerk orders Cup champ's boat seized to satisfy lien

SAN DIEGO (AP) Marshals have been authorized to seize America's Cup champion Oracle Team USA's prototype boat in response to a lien filed by sailor Joe Spooner, whose contract was terminated in January.

The warrant was issued late Friday by clerk Richard Wieking of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco. The boat hadn't been seized as of mid-day Saturday, Oracle Team USA spokesman Peter Rusch said.

It's believed the boat is still at Oracle's base at Pier 80 in San Francisco. The syndicate, owned by software billionaire Larry Ellison, is in the process of moving its operations to Bermuda, where it has chosen to defend the America's Cup in 2017.

Spooner, a New Zealander, sued Oracle Team USA last month, saying his contract for $25,000 a month was terminated without cause. He was a grinder with Oracle Team USA during its America's Cup victories in 2010 and 2013.

Chief Magistrate Joseph Spero denied Spooner's initial complaint on Feb. 23, but said he could file an amended complaint. Spooner's attorney, Patricia Barlow of San Francisco, filed an amended complaint Friday.

She said Spooner had obtained a visa that required him to be working under a fixed-term contract, and that Oracle argued that the sailor had an at-will contract.

''They tried to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds,'' she said by phone Saturday.

Besides the visa issue, Spooner's complaint alleges that Oracle Team USA retaliated against him for asking if his monthly salary could be raised to $38,000 to cover the expense of relocating to Bermuda. Spooner was offered a $4,000 a month relocation housing allowance, but said it would cost around $7,500 a month for suitable housing for his family, as well as other expenses to live on the island for the America's Cup cycle.

Spooner is seeking at least $725,000 in damages.

His contract was to pay him from July 1, 2014, until seven days after the 35th America's Cup in June 2017. He also was to have received a bonus of not less than six months' salary if Oracle Team USA successfully defended the America's Cup in 2017.

Listed as defendants are Oracle Racing Inc. and the multihull foiling AC45 catamaran known as 4 Oracle Team USA, along with all of its systems and wing sail. Ellison is not named in the suit.

The 45-foot catamaran Spooner is asking to have confiscated was built to foil, or ride up on hydrofoils once it reaches a certain speed. Oracle tested the boat on San Francisco Bay in February as it prepares to build a 62-foot catamaran that will be used to defend the America's Cup in 2017. Foiling 72-foot catamarans were used in the America's Cup in 2013, when Oracle Team USA rallied from an 8-1 deficit to win eight straight races and defeat Emirates Team New Zealand.

In a statement emailed to The Associated Press, Rusch said he doesn't ''believe anything has materially changed in the case'' and the team is ''hopeful the judge will overturn the arrest order.''

In a filing Friday, Oracle attorney David E. Russo said the boat Spooner wants confiscated was sold to a French syndicate in December.

However, a photo taken shortly after Team France took possession of that boat shows it has hull No. 5. The boat sought by Spooner has the hull No. 4.

In an earlier filing, Oracle contended boat No. 4 hadn't been launched during Spooner's tenure with the team. Oracle argued that the boat was mismarked and although it said 4 on the hull, it was actually boat No. 5. Spooner provided evidence showing him sailing and repairing the vessel in question.

This is the second suit filed against Oracle Team USA in recent months.

In mid-December, Kiwi grinder Matt Mitchell sued for the $68,000 he has spent on legal fees fighting accusations he helped illegally alter a catamaran used in a warmup regatta before the 2013 America's Cup.

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Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson

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