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Judge Berrigan believes NFLPA lawyer may have conflict of interest in bounty case

Jeffrey Kessler AP

As the NFL awaits a ruling from Judge Helen G. Berrigan on the question of whether the bounty-related suspensions of Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Saints defensive end Will Smith, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, and free-agent defensive Anthony Hargrove will be upheld or overturned or lifted pending a final decision, yet another new wrinkle has emerged.

In an order issued on Wednesday, Judge Berrigan directed NFLPA counsel Jeffrey Kessler to address the question of whether he has a conflict of interest, via his joint representation of the players union and his representation of three of the players who have been suspended (Smith, Fujita, and Hargrove).

The specific basis for the conflict hasn’t been identified.  Instead, Judge Berrigan generally explains that she “has been concerned” that a conflict exists.  Her concerns potentially arise from the fact that the NFLPA has a duty to represent all players, including the actual or potential victims of the acts that Smith, Fujita, and Hargrove allegedly encouraged, funded, and/or directly perpetrated.

Judge Berrigan also said in the order that she is “extremely disappointed” by the failure of the parties to engage in meaningful settlement negotiations, stating that she believes that talks “would likely have resulted in some relief for all four [of] the players.”  She also noted the existence of “longstanding acrimony among all of the attorneys representing all of the parties that predates these disputes,” and she expressed a belief that the acrimony is “contrary to the interests of all four players.”

At first blush, the acrimony itself appeared to be the cause for her concern regarding a conflict of interest on Kessler’s part.  However, given that she emphasized that the acrimony on the part of all attorneys for all parties is impacting the interests of all four players, she apparently believes that Kessler’s situation presents an issue separate from the reality that, when lawyers can’t get along, their clients have a hard time getting justice.

Justice, in one form or another, is coming soon.  Judge Berrigan directed the NFL to respond by 12:00 CT Thursday to the NFLPA’s request for lift the suspensions pending a final disposition of the case.  A ruling, one way or the other, has to come by the close of business on Friday.  Otherwise, justice delayed will have been, from the perspective of the players, justice denied.

Then again, the fact that a ruling didn’t come Tuesday already has denied a portion of the justice they seek, given that they were unable to practice on Wednesday and now on Thursday.  Absent a ruling today, they’ll also miss practice on Friday, making it harder for them to make any meaningful contribution on Sunday, when the Saints host the Redskins and the Browns host the Eagles.  As to Hargrove, who was cut by the Packers last month, Judge Berrigan’s failure to rule has made it even harder for him to get a new job.

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31 Responses to “Judge Berrigan believes NFLPA lawyer may have conflict of interest in bounty case”
  1. mjkelly77 says: Sep 6, 2012 10:26 AM

    Kessler? I thought it was Kramer?

  2. tomsd1 says: Sep 6, 2012 10:28 AM

    The Judge should properly rule that Kessler is “conflicted”. :)

  3. medtxpack says: Sep 6, 2012 10:29 AM

    So its the lawyers fault…..?

    I can buy that.

  4. wolley08 says: Sep 6, 2012 10:31 AM

    Reading between the lines: Judge Berrigan’s comments that settlement negotiations would have resulted in some relief for the players combined with her order for the NFLPA lawyers to explain why they should not be disqualified for possible conflicts of interest means the NFL has, in fact, offered a reduction in the player’s suspension, but that the players (with advice from counsel) have rejected the offer. This is contrary to the NFL’s repeated statements that it has not offered any reductions in suspension.

  5. insanelomein2 says: Sep 6, 2012 10:32 AM

    Why is this garbage still being tied up in the Judicial System?

    Im guessing prosecuting criminals can wait until 3 people find out if they are able to play football.

  6. mjkelly77 says: Sep 6, 2012 10:32 AM

    Judge Berrigan also said in the order that she is “extremely disappointed” by the failure of the parties to engage in meaningful settlement negotiations, stating that she believes that talks “would likely have resulted in some relief for all four [of] the players.” She also noted the existence of “longstanding acrimony among all of the attorneys representing all of the parties that predates these disputes,” and she expressed a belief that the acrimony is “contrary to the interests of all four players.”
    _______________________

    This sounds bad for the players. They may be sorry that they didn’t speak with the Commissioner, admit their wrongdoing and accept whatever penalty, adjusted or not, at which he would have arrived.

  7. tomsd1 says: Sep 6, 2012 10:35 AM

    Hang ‘em High!!!! :)

  8. sj39 says: Sep 6, 2012 10:36 AM

    I must have missed this whole bounty thing. What happened?

  9. tomsd1 says: Sep 6, 2012 10:36 AM

    And what did Shakespeare say about lawyers? :)

    And this is from one who practiced for a number of years before seeing the light and “recovering” to the human race. Double :)

  10. goodolebaghead says: Sep 6, 2012 10:45 AM

    mjkelly77 says:
    Sep 6, 2012 10:32 AM

    This sounds bad for the players. They may be sorry that they didn’t speak with the Commissioner, admit their wrongdoing and accept whatever penalty, adjusted or not, at which he would have arrived.
    **********************************
    Why are YOU so sure they are guilty? I’m not sure either way. The NFL has mucked this whole case up with so many lies and out-of-context truths that no one has a clue anymore. If Goodell had waited to crucify the Saints on national television until he had some concrete evidence, none of this would have EVER happened. If the players are guilty of trying to end other player’s careers for money, they should be in trouble. If Goodell is guilty of framing them with shoddy circumstantial evidence and ending their careers, he should be fired by the league and owe on defamation lawsuits. But don’t be so sure YOU know the truth. None of us do, primarily because the league has lied so much none of us know which of their evidence is truth and how much is fabricated to help railroad their case. IF these players just happen to be innocent, there is nothing to admit and the misjustice the NFL is doing them is HUGE.

  11. norseyapper says: Sep 6, 2012 10:51 AM

    Judge Berrigan is now concerned about a potential “conflict of interest?”
    This from a LA judge who is noteworthy for her extreme bias in favoring labor in all legal disputes and who began these proceedings saying that she was determined to find a way within (or around) the law to rule in favor of the players.

  12. eagleswin says: Sep 6, 2012 10:54 AM

    This judge sure hasn’t met a microphone she didn’t like. The part that is puzzling is that it took her until now to realize the NFLPA lawyers may have a conflict. Isn’t that something she should’ve been looking at earlier in the case if she was going to look at it at all?

    It still looks like she’s trying to find a way out for the players but hasn’t been able to do so.

  13. 9erssteve says: Sep 6, 2012 10:56 AM

    @wolley08 Godell has has ALL ALONG, had the players cooperated with the investigation from the beginning the chances are the punishments may have been reduced.

    You’re confusing that with recent rumours regarding Vilma’s defamation case, and the unfounded rumours that the league would half his suspension if he dropped it. They’re two different things.

    On topic though I’ve said it since day one that the NFLPA had a conflict of interest with this case. They’ve been that busy trying to find loop holes and ways to stall suspensions until the accused retire, that they’ve lost sight of the fact it’s ALSO their job to PROTECT THE MAJORITY from coaches and players who are involved in Bounty programs.

    The union should be very careful here because if the players are found guilty and the punishments upheld they could find themselves cited by the victims/targets of the Bounty scandal (Farve, Crabtree etc) for failing to do enough to protect them!

    The hunters (NFLPA) could very quickly become the hunted if this goes the way I think it will, which is that the punishments will be upheld. DeMaurice Smith is by far the worst thing to have happened to Football in recent years! This whole mess is his making and the conveluted process we’re seeing play out now is his way of trying to hide the fact he gave the league FAR TOO MUCH control in exchange for a few more cents in the dollar!

  14. tomsd1 says: Sep 6, 2012 11:10 AM

    BTW – don’t you think the Commish has some top lawyers advising him as to the proof of “guilt” of the players. These guys were caught red handed – even though it has gone on in some other locker rooms as well.

  15. nyyjetsknicks says: Sep 6, 2012 11:13 AM

    They should hire Jackie Chiles.

  16. rhodeislandpatriotsfan says: Sep 6, 2012 11:42 AM

    Hasn’t Vilma’s application for injunctive relief been before Judge Berrigan for some time now? If so, did she grant Vilma’s prayer for relief? If not, why not?

    In my opinion, the smart play for Judge Berrigan here is to simply wait for the Appeals Panel to issue its ruling, which, as I understand, is expected this week. If two of its three members overrule System Arbitrator Burbank and conclude that Burbank—and not Goodell—has jurisdiction over the players in this matter, then that could simplify matters considerably for Judge Berrigan and the players. While I would be surprised if the Appeals Panel overturns Professor Burbank’s ruling given the deferential standard of review set out under CBA Article 15, Section 2(b), anything can happen.

  17. sdisme says: Sep 6, 2012 11:50 AM

    9erssteve says:
    Sep 6, 2012 10:56 AM

    Godell has has ALL ALONG, had the players cooperated with the investigation from the beginning the chances are the punishments may have been reduced.
    _________________________

    Here is a quote form the first hearing transcript. It’s Vilma speaking under oath:

    Well, if I can backtrack a little bit, when my coaches
    went up to speak with Goodell and security, they said that they
    were blindsided, that they didn’t know what they were really
    stepping into the meeting for. So they didn’t know what the
    meeting was about when they went up there and they spoke. They
    said they basically got bombarded with a bunch of questions
    about this bounty stuff, and they were so taken aback that they
    first were confused, what’s going on.
    Then when they tried to start defending themselves
    and saying that’s not true, that’s not true, or this is false,
    they were accused of lying. Basically, the meeting got ugly,
    from what the coaches told me, and it ended — it didn’t end
    well. I’m not going to say how it ended as far as the
    language.
    From hearing that from when the coaches told me that,
    I just wanted a basic sense of what I was going up there for
    and what they were going to ask me, the questions or anything
    like that, so I didn’t get blindsided myself and then when I
    try to defend myself, be accused of lying.

  18. mogogo1 says: Sep 6, 2012 12:09 PM

    The conflict of interest thing is very real. Players’ unions always end up siding with the rule breakers over the players who follow the rules.

    Guy gets busted for steroids which helped him take jobs away from clean players? Union fights to keep him from being suspended. Bounties that were designed to hurt clean players? Same thing, the union goes to bat for the rule breakers. Now, the union’s lawyers do double duty defending the accused players outright. I honestly don’t know what an honest player gets out of the union.

  19. usmutts says: Sep 6, 2012 12:24 PM

    Hey, tomsd1, when you ask what Shakespeare said about lawyers you are referring to the phrase “First let’s kill all the lawyers. ” You meant it as an insult. As you claim to have once been a lawyer, shame on you for not knowing the true intent of the phrase.

    The phrase is attributed to a character whose purpose was to sow treachery and anarchy among the people. He knew that the only ones who stood between him and his ill purposes, the only ones who stood up for the people, were the lawyers. So he needed them dead in order to carry out his evil purposes.

    The phrase is not an insult to lawyers, but a compliment. That you didn’t know it likely means that the legal profession is uplifted by your absence.

  20. junkfooddaddy says: Sep 6, 2012 12:31 PM

    The NFLPA said well before the penalties were announced they felt it was their job to fight any discipline all guns blazing no matter what because that is the duty of their association.

    Whereas it may be in one of players best interest to cut a deal get the penalty reduced and move on.

    That is where is I see conflict.

  21. eaglesw00t says: Sep 6, 2012 12:39 PM

    I really dont like Judge Berrigan. Is this another way for her to weasel out of ruling the right way?

    Is she trying to make a name for herself or something?

  22. skins4life2009 says: Sep 6, 2012 12:41 PM

    It’s a conflict of interest from the beginning. As you said the NFLPA is suppose to serve ALL players, not just ones who get in trouble. So why are they trying to protect these 4 players instead of the rest of the players who were hurt and injured by the bounty scandal? Isn’t the safety of the players the moat important thing, from what both the NFL and the NFLPA has said. So the NFLPA thinks its ok to intentionally injury players? Atleast that is what I have gathered from this whole thing.a

  23. Nick says: Sep 6, 2012 12:45 PM

    There are three* (lumping the players into one) entities here: NFL, NFLPA, and players. They are being represnted by two attorneys: the NFL attorneys and the NFLPA attorneys. That is the issue. Theoretically there should be three* attorneys each representing the separate interests: players, NFLPA, NFL.

    While the NFLPA and players interests almost always are going to intersect – it is not universal. In these types of issues as management side in labor I’d expect to see three parties and if not I’d push the issue. Just one more hurdle to have the other side jump through.

  24. biggestsaintsfanever says: Sep 6, 2012 12:50 PM

    tomsd1 says:Sep 6, 2012 11:10 AM

    BTW – don’t you think the Commish has some top lawyers advising him as to the proof of “guilt” of the players. These guys were caught red handed – even though it has gone on in some other locker red handedrooms as well.

    Caught red handed? Are you really that slow? the only reason this is in in court is because the players feel RG ig going around saying he “caught them red handed” with absolutely NO proof he did so !!!

  25. cwwgk says: Sep 6, 2012 1:39 PM

    This appears to be a bad omen for the players. If Judge Berrigan had found a reason to rule in their favor she would have at least granted their request for injunctive relief; particularly Vilma’s. There’s no plausible explanation why she hasn’t other than she can’t. The law simply is on the side of Goodell and the league.

    Judge Berrigan seems bound and determined to reach a settlement which I applaud. She knows the only way the players can have their suspensions reduced is if Goodell agrees to do so. The conflict issue would seem to be a sign that Goodell is willing to talk settlement but the NFLPA is balking because it won’t agree with Goodell on anything. Judge Berrigan wants the NFLPA lawyers off the case because they are not acting in the best interests of their clients. That’s the conflict.

    If the players were entitled to relief Judge Berrigan would have granted it by now. The league and Goodell hold all the cards.

  26. thejuddstir says: Sep 6, 2012 1:59 PM

    Vilma wants to play…..Vitt wants to coach……Judge Judy wants to rule in their favor……it’s been several months now and judge judy can’t seem to find a crack in the NFL’s case which I think speaks volumes to what the final outcome is going to be. The NFL has excellent lawyers (unlike the players) and they know that judge judy will have to “manufacture a reason” which will “temporarily” make saints* fans elated only to have their bubble burst when the Federal Appeals Court overrules judge judy’s fairy dust ruling. judge judy has had her staff assisting the players lawyers in trying to dig up a reason for her to rule in their favor for months now and can’t seem to find one…….I think Goodell’s lawyers are feeling quite comfortable. There is a reason why unions have CBA’s and the high courts are going to acknowledge that fact wheter judge judy thinks so or not.

  27. draftazoid says: Sep 6, 2012 2:33 PM

    As a Redskins fan I want Vilma to get reflief so that Vilma and Smith will have to be placed on the active roster immediately. This will mean the Saints will have to cut 2 players right away.
    Comeon Judge rule for Vilma and Smith on Friday.

  28. nzem says: Sep 6, 2012 2:38 PM

    People tend to forget that before becoming NFL commissioner, Goodell was once a lawyer. So there’s no way he could have sanctioned such punishments without making sure all due diligence process was followed. I still think this judge is trying to find in favor of Vilma because she is from LA and wants Saints to come out as victims of a heavy handed commissioner.

  29. cash804 says: Sep 6, 2012 3:02 PM

    Saints fans – please stop making a mockery of the bounty system by denying its existence…it makes you look more ridiculous and desperate than you already are.

    I’d worry more about RGIII and less about the cheaters that won’t be in attendance due to their suspensions.

  30. tater2 says: Sep 6, 2012 4:32 PM

    And where is this appeal boards decision? They have one thing to do and have had a week to do it. There is not one thing about this process and situation that does not stink…..

  31. drew05 says: Sep 7, 2012 11:40 AM

    biggestsaintsfanever says:

    “Caught red handed? Are you really that slow? the only reason this is in in court is because the players feel RG ig going around saying he “caught them red handed” with absolutely NO proof he did so !!!”

    ——————————–

    Wow…there are still Saints fans saying this?

    They were told once to quit doing it, or pay the consequences…then continued to do it, and got caught again.

    Have you heard Gregg Williams pre-game speach? “I’ll get the 1st one!” $$$$

    The only reason this is still in court is because everyone involved knows Goodell case is air-tight, and the Saints fan turned Judge is just praying to find a crack somewhere….even if she does, the appeals court will overrule it…

    Because NFLPA gave Goodell every right he is wielding….they signed the CBA.

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