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Fight likely looming over Tagliabue’s law firm affiliation

Roger-Goodell-Paul-Tagliabue-Getty Getty Images

The NFLPA, as previously explained, has several concerns regarding the decision of Commisioner Roger Goodell to designate former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue as the hearing officer for the bounty suspension appeal, take two.

The one issue that may nullify Tagliabue regardless of whether the NFLPA specifically challenges the appointment relates to Tagliabue’s ongoing association with Covington & Burling, the law firm that is via Gregg Levy representing the league in multiple bounty-related lawsuits.

Before becoming Commissioner in 1989, Tagliabue spent 20 years practicing law with Covington & Burling.  Currently, he has the title of “Senior Of Counsel.”

Ultimately, it’s a question not of NFLPA preference but legal ethics.  Can Tagliabue serve as the neutral arbitrator in a case involving the NFL when his law firm represents the NFL?  If it’s regarded as a conflict of interest, the NFLPA may not be able to waive it, even if the NFLPA wants to.

As we understand it, Covington & Burling won’t be paid for Tagliabue’s services.  Instead, the work arises under a separate consulting contract between Tagliabue and the NFL.  Also, Tagliabue has no involvement in the bounty litigation.

As a matter of legal ethics, however, that may not matter.

The prudent move for Tagliabue would be to seek an advisory opinion from the District of Columbia Bar’s Legal Ethics Committee.  If he guesses and guesses wrong, the Legal Ethics Committee could eventually request that he explain why he shouldn’t be sanctioned for violating the rules of professional conduct.

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14 Responses to “Fight likely looming over Tagliabue’s law firm affiliation”
  1. samapoc says: Oct 21, 2012 4:11 PM

    Conflict of interest!!!

  2. msclemons67 says: Oct 21, 2012 4:15 PM

    It’s a workplace action, not a court of law. This should be regulated by the CBA rather than a bunch of ambulance chasers.

    The fact that federal judges are even allowing this in court shows how screwed up our judicial system is. Rather than following the law these judges are making up their own rules.

  3. paytonsneck18 says: Oct 21, 2012 4:20 PM

    This is literally, LITERALLY the most boring story to ever appear in a football-related publication (as an attorney I can tell you that not even attorneys give a crap about this story).

  4. butthatmakestoomuchsense says: Oct 21, 2012 4:32 PM

    Why is it so hard for Goodell and the NFL to just have the bounty allegations heard by someone truly impartial?

    Am I the only one who wants to see the players punished if they’re guilty, yet not punished if they are not?

  5. ilovefoolsball says: Oct 21, 2012 4:40 PM

    Good job Goodell. You’re really cleaning up the game with all this nonsense.

  6. cwwgk says: Oct 21, 2012 4:46 PM

    Neither Tagliabue, nor Covington & Burling, have ever represented the NFLPA or any of the suspended players. He has no proprietary information from the NFLPA that could put the union at a disadvantage. That alone defeats any contention that the former commissioner has a conflict of interest as defined by the rules of professional conduct or the cannon of ethics.

    Add to the equation that Tagliabue is merely going to serve as an arbitrator, at an administrative hearing, as opposed to an adversary against the NFLPA or the players in a judicial proceeding, and it further defeats the notion of a conflict of interest.

    To say nothing of the fact that from 1989-2006 Tagliabue had the exact same power that Goodell currently does. You know, after he worked at Covington & Burling.

    All of these technical arguments by the NFLPA and Vilma’s lawyer are, at best, delay tactics. They know that the facts and the law are on the side of the NFL.

  7. yetimonster says: Oct 21, 2012 4:47 PM

    You’re making a volcano out of a fire ant hill. There is no conflict. He is far removed from both the NFL and law.

  8. bigjdve says: Oct 21, 2012 5:03 PM

    The CBA states that Goodell has the ability to use an arbiter BUT doesn’t have to.

    The players have been begging for Goodell to recuse himself. He doesn’t have to but he has.

    Now the players are complaining about the arbiter selected.

    All of these items were covered in the CBA, both groups signed off on the proceedings. Now the players are complaining that they can’t have the perfect surroundings for their case?

    For those people stating conflict of interest and all other things. This isn’t a courtroom, this is a collectively bargained set of rules for an organization. Had this been a courtroom, the players would have already been convicted and serving sentences.

    Goodell has handled this poorly, no doubt, but so have the players. They have thrown temper tantrums from the beginning. They have a right to question punishments for the indictments against them, however screaming unfair every time something doesn’t go their way is childish.

    They got a do over, they took part in the hearing this time, they were shown the evidence that made the judge (Goodell) view them as guilty. They obviously don’t agree. They should go to the appeal, and try to prove why they aren’t guilty. In this avenue, at this point, I do believe that Williams and Cerrulo should be there, however even if they don’t, there should be enough in the statements that they can attack for integrity, as well as having a counter side to the story. That is how it works. You convince the judge of your innocence.

    That should be the end of it. However, they cried like little babies about how the agreed upon procedures aren’t fair, so Goodell in a move that I surely didn’t see coming, recused himself from the hearings. Now they are again complaining about the independent arbiter they so wanted. They are crazy if they think that Goodell is just going to give them a judge that automatically favors them or is the one that they would want. They should’ve picked one in the CBA.

    This all comes down to the incompetence of De Smith. He left his players hanging out there to try and save his job.

    If the judge rules in favor of the players, this would set a bad precedent. Employees that didn’t like a rule or procedure at their company could sue for more stupid reasons than they already do.

    The players knew what they were getting into when they signed. This is on them and the union.

  9. kattykathy says: Oct 21, 2012 5:57 PM

    The league has no ethics, and Gestapo Goodell certainly has no ethics.

    Goodell’s sick obsession with the Saints has gotten way out of control. He has zero evidence to back up hid claims of “bounties”. Every time he produces “evidence” it has been refuted.
    Instead of admitting his lies and admitting his smear campaign was in error, he still clings to to HIS belief that there was wrongdoing, even though it’s now clear to all that the Saints have done nothing.

    Sham investigation, sham accusations, sham “evidence”, sham disciplinary action, and now a sham attempt at impartiality by tapping his former boss and mentor to handle appeals.
    Goodell has absolutely no class and is making the whole league look very very shady.

  10. kattykathy says: Oct 21, 2012 6:06 PM

    Husband has a union contract which states that the company can fire with with cause and union can not write a grievance if he commits acts of sabotage against or theft from the company.

    What if the company called him into the office one day and said he was fired because they had “evidence” that he stole from the company and destroyed equipment?

    Husband screams as loud as can be that he never did such a thing, and demands to see the “evidence”, but the company says no we dont have to show you anything.

    Now I know bgjdv would say “oh, ok well I signed off on the contract that allows the company to fire me for this bogus accusation”. The company is right and I guess i will just slink away”

    But those who have a backbone, and integrity will fight a BS sham, and stand up for themselves to clear their name.
    Some people are just cowards

  11. 6thsense79 says: Oct 21, 2012 6:25 PM

    To does too thick headed to understand the article Tags may be found in violation of the code of ethics for those practicing law since he serves as counsel for the law firm that’s currently representing the league and Goodell in the suite the players have in court. Because of the code of ethics of the law profession Tags may not be able to act as an arbitrator EVEN IF THE NFLPA WANTS HIM TO.

    Also for those who keep bringing up the CBA just be aware Goodall may have violated the CBA yet again by not consulting with the union when picking the “impartial” arbiter.

    Every step of the way the league has come off looking like incompetent nincompoops. How hard is it to get an impartial arbitrator? How hard is it to show all the evidence of a bounty system to those accused of wrong doing?

  12. cheddarrob says: Oct 21, 2012 7:22 PM

    Goodell does what he wants and now has tried to step out of the spotlight since this case is weak at best. He picks a former commissioner to reside over the current hearings? Also a commissioner that knowingly allowed bounties in the NFL tot he extent of a documentary being made. If you haven caught on to all the nonsense by now you should wake up. If they had evidence why not release it?

  13. cwwgk says: Oct 21, 2012 7:23 PM

    @ 6thsense79: there is no requirement in CBA (or anywhere) that the arbitrator be totally impartial. In addition, while the NFLPA is to be consulted on who will fill the role, it has no say in the decision. It is the commissioner, and commissioner only, who decides who serves as the arbitrator.

    The league continues to comply with the CBA. The union continues to complain about the very CBA to which it agreed.

  14. pobreezy says: Oct 23, 2012 10:52 AM

    @ cwwgk:
    You need to reread this article because I think the point of it is that it is no longer just a cba formed situation. This has now ventured into the US law territory. The conflict is going to not so much with the appeal in and of itself (of which you must admit, as a human being and not a NFL parrot screaming “CBA! CBA!” That this has not been a fair process) but with the lawsuits filed and the law firm that tagliabue is affiliated. I also want you to keep in mind that the reason we have a cba is to not have situations that tarnish the shield and the NFL’s name which seems to be all that is happening every time I look at the news.
    The next time you want to pull the cba card in this conversation please keep one thing in mind:
    Never has a head coach been suspended. Never has there been this much hearsay and contradictions as this has exposed. Never has the head office publicly and with such conviction condemned a team like this. Noone ever saw a situation like this before. Ever.
    Keep that in mind before you wave the flag of the cba because no one saw this this kind of thing happening when the cba was formed.

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