Part of getting the justice you want is getting the judge you think will give you the justice you want. And Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma has gotten the judge he wanted, for both of the lawsuits he has filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal reported on Tuesday, and we separately have confirmed, that Judge Helen G. Berrigan has been assigned to the new suit filed against the NFL challenging his suspension. She previously was assigned to the defamation lawsuit Vilma filed against Commissioner Roger Goodell.
As we explained in May, Judge Berrigan’s background and temperament favor Vilma’s interests. Appointed by a Democratic president and having a reputation for being liberal, she’ll be more likely to side with David in a case against Goliath.
That’s a very loose, but very real, perception in the legal profession. Liberal judges tend to be more favorable to the rights of individuals, and conservative judges tend to be more favorable to the rights of large organizations. It’s a dynamic about which the NFL surely didn’t complain once the ultra-conservative U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit got its hands on the ruling from liberal Judge Susan Nelson that the 2011 lockout violated antitrust laws.
The NFL surely is complaining, albeit privately, about the fact that Vilma was able to finagle Judge Berrigan for both the case against Goodell and the new case against the NFL.
Vilma’s lawyer, Peter Ginsberg, definitely isn’t complaining now. Ginsberg recently expressed his belief in a letter to Judge Berrigan that a then-looming action to block the suspension is a “related case,” and that it should be joined with the case against Goodell, which shows that Ginsberg likes the fact that Berrigan has been assigned to the initial case, and that Ginsberg wanted her to take the new case, too.
As to the initial case, Goodell’s response to the defamation complaint filed by Vilma is due tomorrow, July 5. Look for Goodell to file a motion to dismiss, claiming that the case is blocked by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and to avoid (at least for now) addressing Vilma’s specific allegations.
If/when Goodell must address Vilma’s allegations, look for Goodell to deny everything.
The good news for the NFL and Goodell is that the federal appeals court with jurisdiction over Louisiana — the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit — has a reputation for being conservative.
The NFL definitely isn’t complaining about that.