New Vilma filing targets alleged Warner bounty, Cerullo’s credibility


The bounty case definitely isn’t over.

In a new court filing opposing the efforts of Commissioner Roger Goodell to obtain a dismissal of Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s defamation lawsuit, Vilma takes aim at two key factors:  the alleged bounty on Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner prior to the 2009 NFC divisional playoff game, and the credibility of former Saints assistant Mike Cerullo.

The overriding goal is to persuade Judge Helen Berrigan that Goodell knew the allegation of a bounty on Warner was false, or that Goodell made the statement with reckless disregard as to whether the claim of a Warner bounty was true or false.  This enhanced legal standard applies in cases of defamation brought by public figures.

Along the way, Ginsberg calls Goodell’s statements “wanton and malicious,” “fictional,” and “inflammatory,” and Ginsberg writes that Goodell accused Vilma of engaging in “quasi-criminal” behavior.

In making the argument that the case against Goodell should proceed, Vilma’s lawyer, Peter Ginsberg, explains that the NFL’s May 2, 2012 press release states that “multiple independent sources . . . confirmed” that Vilma offered the bounty on Warner.  Ginsberg then alleges that, ultimately, the only source was Cerullo.  “Even former Saints defensive coordinator Williams, the mastermind of the alleged Bounty Program, does not contend that Vilma put a bounty on Warner,” Ginsberg writes.

The lawyer for Vilma next contends that the league knew or should have realized that Cerullo’s story was false.

“[A]s Goodell well knew,” Ginsberg writes, “Cerullo was fired for his incompetence and repeated and material lies to the Saints which caused him to miss several weeks of the 2009 season.”  (Cerullo has denied that he was absent from work, in a recent letter to Tagliabue.)

Here’s the kicker from Ginsberg:  “The Saints were so concerned about Cerullo’s stability, as Goodell also knew, that, when Cerullo was terminated, Saints head coach Sean Payton also was forced to obtain police protection at his house for fear that Cerullo would seek some type of retribution.”  (Cerullo has denied that he held a grudge against the team.)

Ginsberg likewise points out that Cerullo’s story has changed, arguing that “Goodell was well aware of these inconsistencies during the months before he imposed discipline on Vilma but nonetheless kept polluting Vilma’s reputation publicly with this fictitious allegation.”

The attack on Cerullo includes not only his motives but his accuracy.  Ginsberg writes that Cerullo allegedly told NFL investigators in November 2011 that he had taken “detailed notes” about the bounties offered as to Warner.  At the hearing before Tagliabue, Cerullo admitted that he made no notes during the defensive team meeting before the game against the Cardinals.

As to the spreadsheet of pledges for the Favre bounty a week later, Cerullo now says the numbers were “inaccurate,” and that “I don’t know what I was trying to do with this document.”

We know what Ginsberg is trying to do with his latest document.  He’s trying to show that the league trumped-up its case against Vilma based solely on the testimony of a former Saints employee who is, in Ginsberg’s apparent view, mistaken and/or corrupt.  And while Ginsberg continues to push the notion that Vilma didn’t offer $10,000 as to Vikings quarterback Brett Favre (and that, as Tagliabue concluded, if it happened it was simply “talk” and not a real offer), it’s clear that the defamation case against Goodell will be driven by the notion that the league knew or should have known that the allegation of a Warner bounty was false.

56 responses to “New Vilma filing targets alleged Warner bounty, Cerullo’s credibility

  1. At this point, the most damage done to Vilma’s character has been done by Vilma himself. Just go away!

    Now I’ll have to hear what Drew Brees thinks about every little thing that happens.

  2. I’ve lost a lot of respect for the people running the NFL. I really thought this was one of the best run sports leagues due to it’s overwhelming popularity.
    Now I see that it has nothing to do with the leadership in the NFL, rather it has everything to do with the sport, and marketing of American Football.

    Give the NFL a passing grade for being great marketers but a failing grade when it comes to being leaders.

  3. Nothing wrong with payback.

    If people holding grudges didn’t seek revenge or payback then many corporate rip-offs would never have been exposed. Corrupt politicians would continue to hold office. Government fraud, waste, and malfeasance would go on unchecked.

    Just because the woman who witnessed the murder is a prostitute doesn’t mean she doesn’t have 20/20 eyesight…

  4. It is a shame to have this case continue to pollute the Season. Vilma has been vindicated already, and believe me, the Saints, as much or more than anyone…would like to see this monster receding in their rear-view mirror.

  5. It looks like we have entered the 10th round of a 12 round bout. Goodell took the early rounds with leaks and exageration, but Vilma has him on the ropes as the facts of the matter continue to come out. Keep the popcorn bowl handy.

  6. I have in the past thought that maybe the NFL was holding back evidence in order to shield the Saints organization from even more, or worse wrongdoing becoming public knowledge.

    Maybe the most damning parts of Cerullo’s story were independently confirmed through interviews and/or testimony of others with knowledge of the wrongdoing.

    Benson’s, Payton’s, and Saints PR Dep’t’s silence is deafening. Almost to the point that it’s leaving players to hang out to dry. Maybe instead of Brees dumping on Goodell, he should ask why nobody from the Saints is backing the players and coaches in this situation.

  7. Wow. Reading this, it’s hard not to like Vilma’s chances in court.

    Just how blindly did Goodell stumble into this while trying to make a statement? Every day he’s making the NFL look clumsier and less competent.

    They are very lucky the product they sell (NFL football) is so good that they can get away with this.

  8. At first i had my doubts about Vilma.. but after seeing him take out Hunter i’m 100% sure that he is a malicious player.. I hope someone takes him out the same way one of these days.

  9. Isn’t the threshold issue here whether Vilma’s defamation suit can even move forward as a matter of law—i.e., whether it should be dismissed for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted,” Rule 12(b)(6)? Isn’t it possible that a trial on the merits might not even be reached here? If Judge Berrigan allows the case to move forward, and the standard of appellate review is “de novo” on the questions of law presented here, is it possible that the Fifth Circuit may look favorably upon Goodell’s legal arguments in support of his motion to dismiss?

  10. The coaches (Payton, Vitt and GM Loomis) silence shouldn’t be taken as an admission of anything. They don’t have a union and Payton has to go to Goodell to get reinstated. They all appealed to Goodell and we know how unbiased he is in overturning his own punishment.

  11. Bottom line is, Goodell was miffed that the Saints thumbed their noses at him. He got mad, had a tantrum and exacted his revenge. And in so doing, completely screwed up and mishandled the entire case. Even Tagliabue called him out for suspending players for the same actions that had previously merited only team fines. I hope Berrigan does let Vilma’s case to proceed, it should. Goodell will eventually learn something, about himself, and about managing a professional league.

  12. At first i had my doubts about Vilma.. but after seeing him take out Hunter i’m 100% sure that he is a malicious player.. I hope someone takes him out the same way one of these days.

    Your an Idiot. That hit was completely legal and clean.

  13. Just yell louder Vilma and it will all go away. Get your boy Brees to do the same thing.
    Your season is over on the field — here’s to you making it a winner off.

  14. harrisonhits2 says:
    Dec 14, 2012 11:55 AM
    Vilma has zero credibility at this point. The louder he screams and whines the guiltier he looks.

    Translation I decided he was guilty and nothing will change my mind.

    Says the blogger with the name harrisonHITS2 – aaah the irony.

  15. So it turns out that Goodell’s star witness is a documented nut case. Goodell couldn’t figure that out because he can’t make his way out of a paper bag. If anyone deserves a lengthy suspension for outright incompetence, it’s Goodell. Next up for Goodell are banning kickoffs and expanding the playoffs to include half of the league.

  16. All Goodell needs is some factual basis for what he stated or wrote, and Ginsberg’s own self-serving, media – grabbing filing admits that very fact. This attorney is wasting Vilma’s money.

  17. Benson/Saints should file a defamation suit bc of what he has done to the branding of the Saints.

    Goodell you speak of representing the “shield” with honor. You sir have made an embarassment of it.

  18. IMHO I think Goodall should just go ahead and suspend Vilma for the rest of this year and all of next year for the extra hate and discontent Vilma has caused. Just do it.

  19. Please. The definition of a smokescreen. That’s the equivalent of a bank robber claiming the evidence against him is insufficient to convict because the prosecution got the name of the bank wrong.

    The issue before the court isn’t whether the program targeted a specific player. Quite to the contrary, it’s whether there was sufficient evidence of the program and Vilma’s participation in it. Nothing more or else.

    Vilma admitted to participating in the program Goodell alleged. Berrigan herself has already stated that he did.

    End of story.

  20. Man—these Saint’s fans are delusional. Are any non Saint’s fans falling for this sleight of hand too?

    The UNDENIABLE FACT is the Saints had a system in place (‘bounty’ OR ‘pay for performance’ is just semantics) that provided large cash rewards (both a salary cap AND an IRS violation) for on-field actions that resulted in the injury of any opposition player.

    Again–the above paragraph is UNDENIABLE.

    It’s right there in black and white for all to see-it’s why Vitt starts drooling and his eyes start to spin when he has to answer any ‘carting off’ questions. No way to put the toothpaste back in the tube on that one Joe!

    Those less intelligent folks-like Drew Brees-who fixate on minor errors while ignoring the big picture are the classic definition of someone who ‘can’t see the forest for the trees’.

    And Vilma does NOT want to go to trial on this defamation suit. As a public figure he has a much much higher bar to hurdle in order to win. Combine that with the NFL’s defense strategy (expose every sordid thing Vilma ever did in order to prove he was already spoiled goods) and he is being a sheep led to slaughter by some very bad advice.

  21. “Benson’s, Payton’s, and Saints PR Dep’t’s silence is deafening.”

    So, you expect Payton to trash the NFL high and low … and then apply for reinstatement? And you expect Benson to trash Goodell … and then ask for the 2nd round pick back? The conditions imposed on them essentially put a gag order on them, too. Joe Vitt is talking, though, and he’s a whole lot more believable than anyone else has been in this matter.

  22. Man—these Saint’s fans are delusional. Are any non Saint’s fans falling for this sleight of hand too?

    stop whinning saints players and fans, we dont care how you feel…it is way past getting old and your team stinks so who really cares>>???

    This says it all about the Saints bashers. I’ll take my legal opinions about this situation from people who know how to spell.

  23. People’s saying Vilma need to go away, why because they battled against Roger Goodell and the NFL for dragging they name through the mud. Also costing him thousands of dollars on something that wasn’t true, come on people’s lets keep this thang real. Yes Roger Goodell need to paid each one of these guys and everyone else who was suspended without pay, because it wasn’t fair for him to have hatred like that on the New Orleans Saints. This is not over yet like Mr. Tag. said Roger Goodell should have spended sometime on this matter than going the way he did these were the worst suspension in NFL history. Like a bounty Program is the first time the NFL heard of this, carry-off, cart-off, or rolled-off this is what the NFL pays these guys to do. NFL started it so finish it pay these players for they disable they got injury on they job.

  24. I consider the silence of Benson, Payton, Loomis and the Saints PR department and Vilma as well ,very simply watching quietly while Goodell and the league have uncoiled enough rope to hang themselves.

  25. there’s a huge difference between “not guilty”, and “found innocent”. the saints players were basically found “not guilty” on a technicality, doesn’t make them innocent.

  26. @robf2010

    Saints management never stuck up for the accused players. Never said they know they are high character individuals. On and off the field. Never said they will support them any way they can while dealing with these allegations. Evidently never told Brees “we got this” you concentrate on football, we’ll back the players and coaches. Never publicly proclaimed the players and organization would be vindicated after all is said and done. Never questioned the evidence, or lack thereof.

  27. pw1265 says:Dec 14, 2012 12:23 PM

    stop whinning saints players and fans, we dont care how you feel…it is way past getting old and your team stinks so who really cares>>???

    Then why did you read the story and comment? If you don’t care, don’t open. It’s just that simple.

  28. A part of me thinks this judge is going to favor Vilma, simply because the judge is from Louisiana.
    @ coltzfan166

    Never heard than one before <-sarcasm

    She is a federal judge – born in New York – went to college in Wisconsin then Louisiana – President Bill Clinton nominated her for her current position.

    Makes you wonder how many other federal judges live where they work?

  29. My question is this: What are the ramifications to the NFL or Goodell should Ginsberg convince Barrigan that he intentionally, and wrongly defamed Vilma?

    I ask here because I am to lazy to do independent research. Thanks!

  30. If this was your team and/or you, you would go to the ends of the earth to make sure the “truth” came out…period and all of you HATERS know it.

    As more facts and background is leaked, it’s apparent that the NFL did not, in fact, have the evidence they claimed they did to convict anyone on the Saints team of anything, not even a parking ticket.

    Anybody can accuse you of anyting, that doesn’t make it true and the more that comes out about this…it stinks to high heaven and the Tag knew it, hence the ruling he gave overturning most of what has already occurred.

    And of course after they’ve been instrumental in tanking the Saints season–not only does Vilma have recourse, but the ENTIRE Saints organization does.

    At the rate this is going, it’s evident that this wouldn’t have even made it to a “real” court for lack of evidence.

    What a shame…but we’ll get ’em next year!

    GEAUX SAINTS!! Your true fans love ya and always will.

  31. Hey if I were Vilma and this happened to me, I’d do the same thing. Goodell has been holding players to a high standard for their actions on and off the field. So why shouldn’t a player do the same to him? Specially since all his info came from a disgrutled ex-employee.

  32. rockemsockemrobots says: Dec 14, 2012 2:19 PM
    My question is this: What are the ramifications to the NFL or Goodell should Ginsberg convince Barrigan that he intentionally, and wrongly defamed Vilma?

    There’s no answer, only speculation, but it would be difficult to imagine Goodell remaining in the position as NFL Commissioner if a jury (it wouldn’t be a judge) found that he defamed Vilma. He’d be terminated with cause.

    Even if the jury ruled in Goodell’s favor, if the whatever facts that would come out of such a trial could spell the end for Goodell.

    From there I would expect the NFLPA and the owners to greatly reduce the new commissioner’s powers. Remember, having a commissioner with unchecked authority doesn’t benefit the owners either.

  33. I thought that all Goodell needed to show was that it was reasonable for him to believe that it happened. A public figure has an even higher threshold for proving defamation. I think it will be as difficult for Vilma to prove malicious intent by Goodell as it was for Goodell to prove intent to injure fro Vilma. This is likely going to be a lengthy and costly waste of time.

  34. “Saints management never stuck up for the accused players.”

    Joe Vitt has … now and before the season when he wasn’t suspended yet. Dennis Allen, now head coach of the Raiders but then defensive coach of the Saints, has. Several former players, with nothing to gain I might add, have testified under oath that there was never any intent to injure. Sean Payton has walked right up to the edge of that line on a few occasions. Has mentioned that he likes that the truth is coming out. All of the suspended coaches appealed their suspensions. There is very little else the team or Payton can do that won’t bring them more trouble from the league.

  35. People have got this all twisted. The only person that’s been exonerated in this whole thing is Fujita. Tagliabue agreed with Goodell’s findings that a bounty program existed and that the other players were invloved to whatever degree. However, he felt that the management screwed everything up so bad that he basically chose to give the players a mulligan because they were just doing what they were told.

  36. seamhereseamthere says:
    Dec 14, 2012 12:35 PM
    Man—these Saint’s fans are delusional. Are any non Saint’s fans falling for this sleight of hand too?

    The UNDENIABLE FACT is the Saints had a system in place.
    And its an undeniable fact the your opinion is in the MINORITY, lol!!!

  37. wallacejay says:
    Dec 14, 2012 3:17 PM
    People have got this all twisted. The only person that’s been exonerated in this whole thing is Fujita. Tagliabue agreed with Goodell’s findings that a bounty program existed…”
    Oh, Tags (Lawyer for the NFL) agreed with GODell… What a freakn surprise, lol

  38. You’re watching TV and someone comes on and tells the world that you were leading a bounty system that was intentionally trying to injure other players for money. You know it’s not true, but how do you contend with your accusser who is also the judge and executioner? Goodell was wrong to intentionally manipulate public opinion to accept his claims as fact. He deserves to pay for his poor judgement and pay big time. Tear him to shreds, Jonathan!

  39. The part that is going strangely unmentioned here is that Payton considered Cerullo dangerous and unstable enough that he asked for police protection….and Goodell was advised about it.

    Two to three years, Goodell suddenly takes on Cerullo as his star witness. Wha…?

    Also note that Cerullo has had four different jobs in four years. Miami, UConn, Princeton. Also stints at Syracuse, Northeastern, Curry College, the Saints and Falcons dating back to 2003. That’s 9 different jobs in 9 (call it 10) years.

  40. Im all in for Vilma. Ive not like Goodell since day one as NFL commish. I think the man is a liar, of lesser character. I do hope the ownership fires his ass.
    Goodell has presented not one single piece of evidence against any player/coach thats be suspended for this alledged “bounty case”
    Give Vilma is just deserts, fire Goodell.

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