Like many of you, we’ve been monitoring today’s developments in Minnesota federal court via Twitter.
By most accounts, Judge Susan Nelson peppered NFL counsel David Boies with questions, while asking far fewer of his counterpart, Jim Quinn. (Curiously, the players opted to put Jeffrey Kessler on the sidelines. It possibly means that NFLPA* executive director DeMaurice Smith realizes that Kessler, when speaking in court, can be a tad abrasive.)
In my own experience, the side that gets the bulk of the questions is the side that is teetering on the brink of defeat.
Though hardly a universal practice, conscientious judges want to be sure that the party against whom a ruling will be entered has had a full and fair chance to make its case. And conscientious judges also want to be sure that they are right — so they fashion questions aimed at soliciting answers that will confirm, or possibly debunk, the direction in which the judge is leaning.
Of course, Judge Nelson could hear enough from Boies to cause her to reconsider things. It’s also possible, given that the parties engaged in three weeks of mediation before the suit was filed, that Judge Nelson perceives the league to be in need of a kick in the butt in order to kick-start meaningful talks aimed at resolving the situation. By creating the impression that she’s leaning toward lifting the lockout, the league could become inclined to return to the table, without insisting on collective bargaining over a litigation settlement.
Indeed, if Judge Nelson orders the parties to go to mediation, the league will have no choice but to comply. This time around, the mediator would also have some power, since the mediator would be able to report back to Judge Nelson if one side or the other is being disrespectful or unreasonable.
Or maybe the league will decide to take its chances on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
Either way, many judges send messages to the parties with the questions asked at a hearing. At this point, there’s a good chance that Judge Nelson wants the NFL to realize that there’s an incentive to settle this thing quickly.