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.