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With bounty rulings pending, Judge has clear concerns about league’s process

Vilma Bounties Football AP

We saw plenty of accounts and interpretations on Friday about the things said at the most recent bounty hearing in federal court.  But there’s no more reliable account than the officially-generated transcript of the proceedings.

PFT has obtained a copy of the officially-generated transcript, and it’s clear that Judge Helen G. Berrigan has concerns that cut both ways in the case against the NFL and the four suspended players:  Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Saints defensive end Will Smith, Packers defensive end Anthony Hargrove, and Browns linebacker Scott Fujita.

For starters, she expressed concern that payment of money for clean, legal hits that knock an opponent out of the game (temporarily or permanently) are bounties.

“I’m kind of seeing, like, is there really a dispute here as to — I agree, and I’ll get into it in a few minutes about the penalties and so forth, but it seems to me that there is a confluence here that what Mr. Goodell says Mr. Vilma did was in effect admitted at the hearing a couple weeks ago,” Judge Berrigan said, referring to testimony regarding the money that was paid not for deliberate efforts to injure but clean hits that caused injury.

In other words, and as we’ve said a time or two (or more), it’s about semantics.

Second, Judge Berrigan made it clear that, despite her concern that what the Saints admitted to doing amounts to a “bounty,” she has even bigger concerns about the process that the league employed.

“I would like to rule in Mr. Vilma’s favor,” Judge Berrigan said.  “I think the proceedings were neither transparent not fair.  I think I made that clear the other day.  I think the refusal to identify the accusers, much less have them at the hearing to be cross-examined, to look at biases, flaws in their testimony, and 18,000 documents that apparently were relied upon by Mr. Goodell, less than 200 were actually provided to you, many of them were redacted.”

She also believes that Vilma was justified in refusing to participate in the June 18 appeal hearing.   “I think you were thwarted at every [turn] by Mr. Goodell’s refusal to provide you meaningful access to witnesses and to documents,” Judge Berrigan said.

Eventually, and as pointed out as the hearing was happening, Judge Berrigan said, “If I can [rule in Vilma’s favor] legally, I will.  If I find a way, I will.”

As to Vilma’s defamation claim against Commissioner Roger Goodell, Judge Berrigan seems to think that Goodell’s public statements about Vilma were justified by his job duties — and by the fact that Vilma is a public figure, who has reduced protection against false statements.  She also is concerned that the labor deal blocks the lawsuit against Goodell.

Regarding the question of whether the entire pay-for-performance/bounty situation amounts to simply a salary-cap violation, Judge Berrigan seems to be far more inclined than arbitrator Richard Burbank to conclude that the Commissioner has no authority to punish players for conduct detrimental to the game in this situation.  If she reaches that conclusion, the bounty penalties would have to be re-issued as cap penalties, and ultimately presided over by Burbank, not Goodell.

It still remains to be seen what the Judge will do.  She said that the case is “very complicated,” and that there are “a lot” of “difficult” issues to resolve.  As previously highlighted, she urged the parties to try to settle the case, and she said she may have to wait until August 30 to issue a decision, since that’s the day on which Burbank’s cap-violation decision will be appealed.

Don’t be surprised if she dismisses the defamation lawsuit but overturns the suspensions.  Whatever she does, whoever loses will appeal.

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24 Responses to “With bounty rulings pending, Judge has clear concerns about league’s process”
  1. khuxford says: Aug 15, 2012 2:45 PM

    If she overturns the suspensions, appeal or not, the players win. The suspensions will then not be served this season, in all likelihood. Then, if and when it is a settled matter, the worst case scenario has the players serving reduced suspensions (greatly, in the case of Vilma). Best case sees it addressed as the salary cap matter that it is and the players likely see no punitive actions, only the organization. The NFL would be wise to reevaluate their approach to Payton, just in case it goes to arbitration where it is found that no one below the GM and owner should have faced consequences.

  2. stew48 says: Aug 15, 2012 2:54 PM

    It would appear that the judge is getting closer and closer to my thoughts, except she will actually know what she is doing. The big problem is Goodell’s power. While there may be an agreement in the CBA, the USA prevails in that no one has a right, authority, etc., to do the deeds Goodell has without the victim having far more rights to defend him/herself. ” It just ain’t so, Charlie!”

  3. kattykathy says: Aug 15, 2012 3:00 PM

    Vilma don’t care about no defamation lawsuit. He wants his suspension overruled so he can play and collect his millions.

    If Roger ” I lie about bountygate” goodell knows what is best for him, he should admit that the investigation was flawed, his “evidence” was flawed, his leaks were flawed, and his accusations were flawed.

    Man up, admit you were “WRONG”( im giving you the chance to avoid admitting you LIED) and restore the good names and repuatations of the Saints players, owner, g.m, and coaches.

    The judge already said you were blocking any chance for the players to prove their innocence, I suggest you correct the mess you created before Mr. Benson really gets nasty in court with you, and gets a coalition/majority of his wealthy coowner cronies to oust you from your grossly overpaid job.

  4. truthfactory says: Aug 15, 2012 3:08 PM

    Eventually, and as pointed out as the hearing was happening, Judge Berrigan said, “If I can [rule in Vilma’s favor] legally, I will. If I find a way, I will.”
    ————

    Essentially, Goodell followed the letter of the law. She doesn’t necessarily like the law, so she’s going to try as hard as she can to find a loophole to get the players out of the mess that they’ve negotiated themselves into.

    Typical liberal mentality…

  5. marthisdil says: Aug 15, 2012 3:22 PM

    She can’t rule about the suspensions because those are clearly covered by the CBA. In order for her to rul in Vilma’s favor of those, he would have to leave the union.

    And in that case, he’d have all sorts of other issues.

    I’m waiting for the NFL to hand over it’s payment evidence to the IRS and let the feds have fun with these morons for money not reported for taxes.

  6. saintsfan26 says: Aug 15, 2012 3:22 PM

    How can they call something a bounty and then say that intent doesnt matter? How can a person set a bounty on something without intentionally setting a bounty on something?

    Just because an injury occurred, that doesnt make it a bounty.

    If a man is punching a woman and you walk over and knock the guy out.. and then the woman gives you money for helping her, does that make it a bounty just because you injured the guy? No. It makes it a reward.

    Now relate that to football. If a player “carts off” another player without intent, and then the coach gives you money for it, does that make it a bounty? No. It makes it a reward. In other words, it makes it pay for performance.

    You cant have a bounty without intent.

  7. bucrightoff says: Aug 15, 2012 3:29 PM

    The CBA is a contract. The players agreed to this contract. Now they realize they screwed up, and quite frankly the NFLPA is hinging themselves on this case so they can basically challenge everything Goodell does from here on out. When the average joe signs a contract with an employer, they accept the terms. She may want to rule for Vilma, and she might not like the process, but nobody put a gun to the players head and said accept.

  8. khuxford says: Aug 15, 2012 3:33 PM

    Congratulations on your ironic name: there’s nothing truthful about what you’re manufacturing in your comment.

    It is sad, yet not unexpected, that so many here fail basic reading comprehension tests.

  9. sb44champs says: Aug 15, 2012 3:37 PM

    “Essentially, Goodell followed the letter of the law. She doesn’t necessarily like the law, so she’s going to try as hard as she can to find a loophole to get the players out of the mess that they’ve negotiated themselves into.”
    ———————————-
    Actually and essentially, GODell followed his own hidden agenda and publically blasted an undeserving scapegoat of a team in the Saints and now she has reached a far-gone conclusion that GODell did not act in good faith and his process was completely flawed and UNFAIR with or without the CBA being considered. Remember, pretty much every team in the league has had a pay-for-performance incentive program at one time or another!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. sb44champs says: Aug 15, 2012 3:45 PM

    “She may want to rule for Vilma, and she might not like the process, but nobody put a gun to the players head and said accept.”
    —————————————-
    And not a one player ever thought or could have predicted that GODell would totally abuse his power as a commish, thats why they signed on the dotted line… Do you really believe that had the players known that GODell would abuse the power given to him in the CBA that they would have actually signed the thing??

  11. silentcount says: Aug 15, 2012 4:00 PM

    The independent investigation by the FBI guys shows no justification for the suspensions, and Benson was showing this to Goodell before he releases it to the public. The judge says Goodell’s process was not fair. So in conclusion, Goodell is not to be trusted. If it’s based only his word, then Sean Payton, Joe Vitt, Vilma and Will Smith are not guilty of his accusations. The only way this will end is if they’re all freed, and the sooner, the better!

  12. cwwgk says: Aug 15, 2012 4:01 PM

    Good to see the judge realizes the Saints were operating a bounty program. She stated on the record the Saints can call the program whatever they want, but in her eyes it still boils down to the fact the players were paid if the opposition got hurt. Hopefully we can now dispense with the nonsensical argument the players shouldn’t be punished because they were simply involved in a “pay for performance” scheme. The judge didn’t buy it either, move on.

    Her beef is with how Goodell handled the appeal. Since the the wording in the CBA is rather limited as to what the parties have to do to comply with the process, the judge likely realizes she’s going to have to dig deep to support a ruling against Goodell. The law and the facts are not really on Vilma’s side. The judge know’s it which is what is driving her “crazy.”

    Interesting how she’s pursuing the issue as a salary cap violation. Not even the Saints’ supporters agree with that position. Perhaps she believes it’s Vilma’s best shot since it would divest Goodell of jurisdiction.

    Not quite the slam dunk Saints Nation has been predicting since last Friday’s hearing.

  13. cwmorga says: Aug 15, 2012 4:03 PM

    @bucrightoff says: Aug 15, 2012 3:29 PM

    The CBA is a contract. The players agreed to this contract.
    ————————–

    Goodell also agreed to this contract, which stipulates he has to provide evidence used in the investigation.

    Some of you seem to be under the impression that the players are the only ones bound by the CBA. Goodell is also bound by the provisions in the CBA, and he overstepped them several times in the last 6 months.

  14. ishallcomment says: Aug 15, 2012 4:20 PM

    shes trying to bail the dummy players who only cared about “getting a bigger peice of the pie” and ignored the hundreds of other details in the CBA.

    if the players agreed to it, they deserve all they get.

  15. AlanSaysYo says: Aug 15, 2012 4:29 PM

    I can’t imagine what kind of shenanigans would ensue if Vilma wins this, and a portion of the CBA is essentially deemed unlawful. What other doors will that open for the NFLPA? What other parts of the CBA aren’t as iron-clad as they appear?

    Goodell really stepped in it this time.

  16. genericuser8888 says: Aug 15, 2012 4:57 PM

    If I understand the case correctly… Gingsberg (Vilma’s lawyer) is arguing that under U.S. labor laws, Goodell has an obligation to be a fair judge / arbitrator / etc.

    The CBA is subservient to federal labor law. So, while Goodell has great power under the CBA, he also has great responsibility to be fair and abide by labor laws.

    As a government approved monopoly, I would think that the NFL even has a greater responsibility to follow such laws. If they don’t treat players fairly and follow federal law to the letter, there is a strong case to be made that they no longer be worthy of government monopoly protection. No one is bring this up now, but the longer this bounty affair plays out, the worse the league looks…the league should end this before it gets even messier.

  17. mwindle1973 says: Aug 15, 2012 5:50 PM

    @Florio says: Don’t be surprised if she dismisses the defamation lawsuit but overturns the suspensions. Whatever she does, whoever loses will appeal.

    _______________

    First off I agree the decision will be appealed, but if she does what you say, the suspensions will likely stay overturned until the appeal is heard. And vice versa. But I really don’t think she will do what you say. There’s a contention the NFL has been stuck on (and me too). Now the judge speaks of it too. THe part where you said she has concerns that the CBA blocks the lawsuit. I firmly believe that will be the case in the end, and she will be unable to do anything but dismiss the suit. We got sick of hearing Goodell say it, but in the end this lawsuit may indeed be “an improper attempt to circumvent a collectively bargained process.”

  18. mrpowers88 says: Aug 15, 2012 6:15 PM

    1. The judge sees that this is a bounty-type system. Anyone that tries to prove it wasn’t is wrong- there was an understanding that if you hit someone, and they got knocked out of the game, you got paid. The only time it wasn’t a bounty, was possibly the first time when a player knocked someone out of a game and was “surprised” with a payment. After that, it’s a bounty.

    2. The more this judge talks, the more it sounds like she’s worried that her tires will get slashed, house burned down, etc. by disgruntled Saints fans that won’t understand that there is no legal loophole for the players to slip through.

    3. Goodell has been doing all this to protect the Shield. Let’s say someone at Yahoo Sports published a long investigative report about how the Saints were operating a bounty system for years- the PR nightmare for the league would be unbearable. In the current situation, there is a little- just a little- talk about how “every team in the league does this too,” but there is more anger and outcry directed at Goodell for taking action than at the fact that Saints (and maybe other teams) were rewarding players for the ugly part of the game: injuries.

  19. usmutts says: Aug 15, 2012 7:24 PM

    “Goodell has been doing all this to protect the Shield.”

    With respect, you’re wrong. Goodell’s sole objective is to inflate and maximize the obscene profits of the billionaire owners who gave him a $20mil per year seat at their table, the billionaires without whom he might actually be obliged to rely on his law degree for a living, in which event he would be totally screwed given that he has no knowledge or regard for fundamental legal concepts such as probative evidence, burden of proof, and fair and impartial proceedings.

  20. gtodriver says: Aug 15, 2012 8:19 PM

    usmutts says:

    “With respect, you’re wrong. Goodell’s sole objective is to inflate and maximize the obscene profits of the billionaire owners who gave him a $20mil per year seat at their table, the billionaires without whom he might actually be obliged to rely on his law degree for a living, in which event he would be totally screwed given that he has no knowledge or regard for fundamental legal concepts such as probative evidence, burden of proof, and fair and impartial proceedings.”

    When a “home cooking” Louisiana judge admits that what Saints fans are trying to call a “pay for performance” program is in fact a “bounty” system, you know that the judge understands the truth.

    As to the billionaire owners and their obscene profits – you might want to look at the players and their obscene salaries.

    Simple fact – You have to be a billionaire to make that many other people millionaires.

    As to Goodell’s knowledge of the law – I would bet that Goodell has forgotten more about the law than you’ll ever know… And Goodell hasn’t forgotten very much about the law.

  21. daveman8403 says: Aug 15, 2012 8:59 PM

    Goodell is not a lawyer. He has a degree in economics.

    The judge did NOT say it was a bounty program in the respect that goodell first accused the saints of.

    “bounty” as described in rules also list pay-for-performance even devoid of any injury. the problem is, that Goodell did violate the CBA by not being a fair in impartial judge, or giving a fair appeal. (that is actually in the CBA).

    the argument also stems from this only being a salary cap issue in which Goodell does not have the authority to punish players, as it is an off the field offense. There is no on field evidence, or “trail of bodies” as Goodell would have you believe.

  22. mancave001 says: Aug 15, 2012 9:04 PM

    saintsfan26 says:
    Aug 15, 2012 3:22 PM
    How can they call something a bounty and then say that intent doesnt matter? How can a person set a bounty on something without intentionally setting a bounty on something?

    Just because an injury occurred, that doesnt make it a bounty.

    If a man is punching a woman and you walk over and knock the guy out.. and then the woman gives you money for helping her, does that make it a bounty just because you injured the guy? No. It makes it a reward.

    Now relate that to football. If a player “carts off” another player without intent, and then the coach gives you money for it, does that make it a bounty? No. It makes it a reward. In other words, it makes it pay for performance.

    You cant have a bounty without intent.
    ———————————-

    Yours is emblematic of the kind of twisted, contorted logic Saints fans are using to defend their team. You can call it whatever you want..pay for performance, bounty, reward, whatever…it was still ILLEGAL under NFL rules. Players were paid for hits that resulted in opposing players being knocked out the game. No matter it’s called, providing ANY incentive for this is WRONG. Fortunately, it also happens to be against NFL rules.

    I happen to agree that God-All has too much power. But that’s the fault of the NFLPA…they should have never agreed to continue a process where he is nearly a deity. That duly negotiated process resulted in suspensions. Stop trying to defend your team’s actions and accept your fate.

  23. larryjames836 says: Aug 15, 2012 9:08 PM

    This is why Tom Benson went to meet with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell you used the league rules and you use it wrong. Roger Goodell knew what he was doing wanting to get all the fans behind him and his wrong doing all the fans brought into it. Tom Benson maybe was telling Goodell of how he used the CBA to hurt his team and that was not the way the CBA was set to do so you took it upon yourself to try and destroy the league. The owners are the one footing the bills Roger Goodell not spending a penny so there were nothing good talked about between Tom Benson and Roger Goodell so one of these billionaire is the President of the NFL organizations. Make me think its Tom Benson because he was the one bought Sean Payton to the Hall of Fame party so this tells me something that Benson are carrying some weight not just his money. He called a meeting with Roger Goodell this not the first meeting thY
    at was called Roger Goodell made like he was to busy. So Tom Benson went to Goodell office all of this mess still not over someone must tell the truth.

  24. austinwhodat says: Aug 15, 2012 9:09 PM

    gtodriver says: Aug 15, 2012 8:19 PM

    As to Goodell’s knowledge of the law – I would bet that Goodell has forgotten more about the law than you’ll ever know… And Goodell hasn’t forgotten very much about the law.

    You’re wrong – he’s not a lawyer. He’s an economist.

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