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March 21 suddenly looms large over bounty case

Roger Goodell AP

Complex litigation often turns on the manner in which a single domino falls.  In the bounty cases pending before Judge Helen G. Berrigan in a New Orleans federal court, the NFL could be headed for a bad outcome if she ultimately concludes that there was exaggeration, embellishment, and/or fabrication regarding one specific fact that, as explained last night, she has decided to closely scrutinize.

It all centers on what did — or didn’t — happen before March 21, the day that the NFL announced its punishment of the Saints, coach Sean Payton, G.M. Mickey Loomis, assistant head coach/linebackers coach Joe Vitt, and former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma claims that public comments made by Commissioner Roger Goodell regarding his alleged offer of $10,000 to whoever knocked Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC title game on March 21 fall beyond the formal discipline process, and are thus subject to a defamation lawsuit, because Goodell hadn’t fully investigated and resolved the question of Vilma’s responsibility at the time the statements were made.  The league claims within the confines of the bounty lawsuits that it was ready to discipline the players at the same time the non-players were disciplined, on March 21, but that the NFLPA specifically asked Goodell to delay the announcement.

“[T]he Commissioner was prepared to issue his suspension decision with regard to the players at the same time that he disciplined the franchise and the coaches. But he held off doing that. He held off doing that because he was asked to do that by the Union, which represented to him that it was conducting its own investigation and no investigation ensued,” NFL counsel Gregg Levy told Judge Berrigan in court on August 10.

And so Judge Berrigan wants to see if the NFL can prove that the NFLPA asked the league to delay announcing the decision, by ordering the parties to identify no later than noon on Friday, August 17, the date on which the request was made.

Here’s the potential problem for the league, as demonstrated by links some of you have pasted in the surprisingly high number of (approved) comments to last night’s story.  It looks like a decision hadn’t been made regarding the players as of March 21, which would mean that the NFL told the court something other than the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

As Jim Trotter of SI.com reported on March 16, the NFL told the NFLPA in a letter dated March 14 that “there is no basis for delaying the imposition of any discipline in this matter.”

Based on that letter, it appears that, yes, the NFLPA made the request but that the NFL actually told them, no, we’re not going to do what you want us to do.

Then there’s the fact that Commissioner Roger Goodell said in an April 24 interview with the league’s in-house TV network that decisions still had not been made as to the players.

“I hope to reach those decisions very soon,” Goodell said.  “We have been continuing our work.  We have continued to talk to players and other people that can give us a perspective.  Once we have got all the information and we feel that we are in a position to be able to issue the fairest and most thorough types of decisions, we will do that but I expect to do that soon because this is a big element to me.”

Goodell didn’t say, for example, I’m ready to announce a decision and I’ve been ready since March 21 but I’ve been delaying it until the NFLPA can finish its own investigation.

It’s not a big piece of the litigation puzzle, but it can operate like the keystone of an arch.  Once it gets knocked out, the whole thing can crumble because the judge thereafter won’t accept at face value anything the NFL has to say about the case.

Given that the outcome before Judge Berrigan is destined to be appealed by the losing party, this factual disconnect likely could be the centerpiece of the players’ presentation to the panel that will be reviewing Judge Berrigan’s work.

It also could be the tipping point in a P.R. battle that, to date, the NFL hasn’t been able to win as conclusively as it ordinarily does.

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28 Responses to “March 21 suddenly looms large over bounty case”
  1. gnu2308 says: Aug 16, 2012 9:41 AM

    Once again the courts are trying to save a low life punk from himself. Vilma is a dirty low life and deserves every bit of the punishment handed out. This dumb broad judge needs to go back to judging dog shows and leave the football to the men.

  2. kingfish4242 says: Aug 16, 2012 9:42 AM

    I don’t have anything to add,but wanted to say Thank You Mike for keeping us abreast of what’s going on in this case from a legal perspective.

  3. grudenlikesme says: Aug 16, 2012 9:44 AM

    Can we just move on from this already. This is like a male soap opera.

  4. floriosfuglykid says: Aug 16, 2012 9:46 AM

    Sometimes the guilty escape punishment … but let’s not confuse that with innocence.

  5. arcaero says: Aug 16, 2012 9:46 AM

    The NFL will just come up with some photoshopped, pencil-scribbled, memo converted to typed page stating the decisions had been made on March 21.

    Kinda like BHO’s birth certificate.

  6. harryglyphics says: Aug 16, 2012 9:46 AM

    Everyone keeps missing the point of this whole thing: It’s not about bounties or injuring opposing players (why didn’t Farve’s line just block a little better?!) or whether players/coaches use money for incentives. It’s about where the money came from. And the missing link in all of this is that there was money put up by an outside source, in this particular case, Mike Ornstein.
    And, since the NFL has no authority over him, there was no way to deal with him directly. Goodell told Payton et.al to severe ties with Ornstein and Payton and co. basically ignored him.
    Goodell sees this as an outside force trying to influence the outcome of a game. But he is loathe to bring up “evidence” regarding anyone outside of his jurisdiction.
    It seems the signs all point to the Commish having the goods on the coaches and the g.m. but the players can plausiby deny direct interaction (i.e. taking money from) Ornstein.

  7. mellish225 says: Aug 16, 2012 9:47 AM

    My dislike for the NO “Saints” is like the power of microchips – it seems to double every week…

  8. slayer1224 says: Aug 16, 2012 9:47 AM

    Goodell is a liar. The judge needs to nail him for perjury.

  9. lightcleric says: Aug 16, 2012 9:50 AM

    The unfortunate thing is that most people will never hear developments like this because it would require ESPN to follow up on a story.

  10. jjbadd385 says: Aug 16, 2012 10:26 AM

    I’m hoping Vilma wins in this matter, simply because I disagree with the method of how the decisions were made. Goodell has too much power & acts like a God or tyrant. His system is totally unfair and appeals are just formality, as he never reconsidered anything.

  11. jpmelon says: Aug 16, 2012 10:31 AM

    The Judge wants proof that the NFLPA asked for more time prior to March 21? Correct? You just mentioned that there is a letter dated March 14 where Goodell acknowledges the NFLPA asking for more time. If that is the case, then how is this not looking good for the NFL?

    Since the proof that such a request was made is available. Now all Goodell has to do is say “yes, my mind was made up at the time and I decided to delay the announcement after I wrote the letter”.

    This might not be the critical domino that Florio thinks it is. But it will be interesting to see how the NFLPA responds with proof/facts.

  12. norseyapper says: Aug 16, 2012 10:37 AM

    In other words the judge is holding to her word to try her best, to dig like crazy, to somehow find a way, to rule in favor of labor/players/Vilma.

    That she is going to do so, whether such a thing is the legally responsible thing to do or not, seems a foregone conclusion.

  13. realdealsteel says: Aug 16, 2012 11:30 AM

    Goodall is twisting in the wind because he’s being exposed as a liar. This whole bounty thing is a farce and if Goodall was any type of real man, he’d reach a settlement with Vilma and put this thing to bed.

  14. ninefingers9 says: Aug 16, 2012 11:39 AM

    Man I hope Goodell is forced to resign! He seems to think that the NFL is HIS own personal creation…and he has made himself God!

  15. silentcount says: Aug 16, 2012 11:51 AM

    Bottomline — Based on the evidence, Goodell was not justified to make the harshest accusations and hand out the most severe punishments in the history of the NFL. It shows poor judgement on his part. So now, the judgement against him should be equally harsh. He brought this on himself, and those who are tired of the whole mess should blame him and not the Saints. They have every right to keep fighting for the truth to come out and change the negative public perception that Goodell intentionally fabricated.

  16. halen11 says: Aug 16, 2012 11:52 AM

    I know everyone’s tired of the bounty case, but I think this is the best reporting that PFT has ever done. Seriously. It’s great to be able to come here and get a thoughtful legal analysis of Bounty Gate or whatever it’s called. I wish that PFT (or anyone) had been as thorough and proactive in providing an upfront statistical analysis of defensive penalties, injuries, etc during the years that bounty gate was in place. That might have stemmed some of the initial outrage about the whole situation… but Florio is now leading the way among all news outlets with regards to this story. Kudos.

  17. prplpuzzetrz says: Aug 16, 2012 12:05 PM

    Anyone siding with Vilma is misinformed & does not understand what is really happening. Unreal the hatred toward Goodell, when he is the guy who has to do the dirty work! Like him or hate him, he has done a steller job making all the decisions in the best interest of the league, knowing , misinformed fools will look at him with scorn.
    There is no way Goodell lied! Makes no sense

  18. kellij666 says: Aug 16, 2012 12:36 PM

    amazing that you people don’t see what goodell has tried to do all along. he’s punishing players based on what he says is “50,000 pages of evidence” yet hasn’t produced it. why should he be able to do that? it’s not fair to the players or the fans for that matter. before you punish someone for something you have to be able to prove he did it. you can’t ruin a man’s livliehood based on belief. what about all these players who are getting arrested for dui, assault, domestic violence….etc. those are the players who should be disciplined but those players will get their day in court first which they are entitled to. the other players should be at the very least entitled to the same.

  19. thefirstsmilergrogan says: Aug 16, 2012 12:38 PM

    its pretty amusing how many folks commented on this post without reading (or at least comprehending) any of it. When the league says Goodell had decided the punishment and was ready on March 24, and only delayed because of the NFLPA request, which had been denied by letter on March 14 or earlier.

    Then Goodell goes on NFLN on April 24 and says this:

    “I hope to reach those decisions very soon,” Goodell said. “We have been continuing our work. We have continued to talk to players and other people that can give us a perspective. Once we have got all the information and we feel that we are in a position to be able to issue the fairest and most thorough types of decisions, we will do that but I expect to do that soon because this is a big element to me.”

    If this doesn’t appear to be the NFL lying, and it doesn’t make sense to you why they might, perhaps you need remedial reading assistance.

  20. mjkelly77 says: Aug 16, 2012 12:40 PM

    … Judge Helen G. Berrigan in a New Orleans federal court …
    ___________________
    That’s right. A homer judge in a homer court. If she rules against Commissioner Goodell I can see her ruling being overturned in Appellate Court.

  21. tater2 says: Aug 16, 2012 12:54 PM

    Whatever the NFLPA did with regards to an investigation, they did not expect the League to block and not allow any evidence to them. Pretty hard to investigate smoke and mirrors. What they did do, which the League did not, is speak to the players. That is why they have countered the NFL so strongly on this…..

  22. geauxjay says: Aug 16, 2012 1:39 PM

    It’s ironic that the Hater Nation is whining about a judge allegedly trying to find a fact to support her supposedly pre-determined outcome.

    Because that is EXACTLY what Roger Goodell did and continues to do, and you were okay with that.

  23. mikebyrne1502 says: Aug 16, 2012 1:43 PM

    Whether he or they did it or not (saints) you can’t lie to a judge and if the NFL did she’s not ruling in favor of the players she doing her job and letting the NFL know no one can lie in federal court and get a way with it… That being said if they can’t find proof against the NFLPA, I wonder if the league just gets fined, or if someone is going to do jail time.

  24. kellij666 says: Aug 16, 2012 2:07 PM

    just show us the proof already roger!!!!! that’s all we want to see. if they did it and the evidence bears that out then they deserve to be punished but if not………

  25. nomad57 says: Aug 16, 2012 2:16 PM

    kellij666 says: Aug 16, 2012 2:07 PM

    just show us the proof already roger!!!!! that’s all we want to see. if they did it and the evidence bears that out then they deserve to be punished but if not………
    —————————————————
    Well said! That’s all the fans want, the whole truth!

  26. jedidev says: Aug 16, 2012 3:51 PM

    Hey Goodell – you didn’t build the NFL; someone else did that.

  27. mexoplex says: Aug 17, 2012 9:50 AM

    i wonder if this page is AINTS biased? just glancing at all the comments on here…. the ones that go against the AINTS have majority thumbs down, while anyone cursing Goddell gets majority thumbs up.

  28. sh0rtraccoon says: Aug 19, 2012 10:37 AM

    Oh come off it – Goodell didn’t avoid “telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” – he flat out lied and defamed an entire team! Of course the courts won’t take you seriously once they catch you lying about things – who the heck should?

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