With all the various lawsuits and other legal maneuverings in the NFL, it’s easy to forget some of them. One case that won’t quickly disappear from public eye is the matter of Vilma v. Goodell, a rare attack by an active player against the Commissioner of his sport, with no other plaintiffs or defendants involved.
Jim Varney of the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that the case has been assigned to Judge Helen Ginger Berrigan of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. A New York native, Judge Berrigan attended law school at LSU and never left. She was appointed to the federal bench by President Clinton in 1993.
Judge Berrigan has a reputation for being very liberal, which means she’ll be more naturally inclined to relate to Vilma’s perspective than Goodell’s.
Goodell has not yet filed a response to the complaint. He most likely will submit a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that Vilma must pursue any rights or remedies under the Collective Bargaining Agreement’s grievance process. Goodell and the NFL undoubtedly will advance other arguments in support of ending the case before it ever really gets rolling.
If/when the merits of the defamation claim are addressed, Vilma’s biggest hurdle will be the legal standard that applies to public figures. He’ll have to prove that Goodell acted with malice. While this doesn’t require evidence that Goodell spent hours in his secret lab plotting to harm Vilma, it means that Vilma must prove Goodell knew the bounty allegations publicly made about Vilma were false, or that Goodell acted with reckless disregard to whether the allegations were true or false.
Either way, survival of the lawsuit beyond the early efforts to get it kicked out of court will give Vilma and his lawyer the ability to investigate the bounty investigations, developing all evidence of guilt — and any evidence of innocence.