April 6, 2012 6:45 PM

The Score: NFLPA Hires Fulbright Jaworski for ‘Bountygate’ Probe

Posted by Brian Baxter

It may be the offseason, but National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell has been busy lately, suspending coaches, levying fines, and revoking draft picks as a result of an organized program run by the New Orleans Saints under which the franchise’s players were paid bounties for injuring opposing players during games.

Now, as the league’s disciplinary spotlight turns toward Saints players, The Am Law Daily has learned that the National Football League Players Association has retained Fulbright Jaworski.

Fulbright’s entry into the fray comes about a month after the scandal first erupted via a memo sent by the NFL to its 32 teams that was quickly leaked to the press about an ongoing league investigation of the Saints, who won the Super Bowl in February 2010.

In late March, the league’s central office suspended Saints head coach Sean Payton for a year and indefinitely banned the team’s former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Saints general managing Mickey Loomis and assistant coach Joe Vitt received eight- and six-game bans next season, respectively. The team was also fined $500,000 and the NFL took away its second round draft picks this year and next.

Vitt is being advised by veteran sports lawyer Wm. David Cornwell, Sr., of Atlanta’s DNK Cornwell on his appeal of the league’s suspension. Cornwell, named the new head of the NFL Coaches Association in February, and recently retained by Milwaukee Brewers star Ryan Braun in his legal fight with Major League Baseball, said this week his client was being punished for the actions of Williams, whom he called a “rogue coach.”

This week Yahoo Sports obtained audio of Williams exhorting Saints players to injure their opponents on the San Francisco 49ers before a playoff game earlier this year. Documentary filmmaker Sean Pamphilon recorded the audio of Williams as part of a project he’s working on about former Saints special teams star Steve Gleason, who is suffering from ALS. (Gleason issued a statement Friday in which he said he did not authorize Pamphilon to release the audio.)

NFL.com reported this week that Goodell—the brother of former White Case MA cochair and current Hess general counsel Timothy Goodell—general counsel Jeffrey Pash, and senior vice president of law and labor policy Adolpho Birch III, met with representatives from the NFLPA as the union sought to grasp the scope of any possible actions against Saints players.

Leading the NFLPA contingent: longtime general counsel Richard Berthelsen, who announced last month that he will retire on May 15. But the union has also retained outside lawyers as a precaution against potential criminal charges being filed against its members, according to a report this week by The Associated Press.

NFLPA spokesman George Atallah told The Am Law Daily on Friday that Fulbright partner Richard Smith, the chair of the firm’s global white-collar crime and government investigations practice in Washington, D.C., has been retained by the union. Smith did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

Fulbright received approximately $258,663 in fees from the NFLPA between March 1, 2010 and February 28, 2011, according to an annual operating report filed by the union last year, which The Am Law Daily reported on in February.

This month the NFLPA filed an abridged annual operating report for 2011—the union decertified last year as part of a labor litigation strategy against the league that eventually ended in a settlement—showing payments to just a few firms, including $104,325 for lead collective bargaining counsel Dewey LeBoeufaccording to a report on our site last week.

The NFLPA is headed by DeMaurice Smith, a former Patton Boggs and Latham  Watkins litigation partner, who had his term as executive director extended by the union’s rank-and-file last month.

Around the Horn

—Billionaire Philip Anschutz announced this week that he is moving ahead with plans to build a $1 billion football stadium designed to lure two NFL teams to Los Angeles, where the league has not had a presence since 1995. The city itself mulled hiring Nixon Peabody, known for its stadium expertise, to advise on a financing plan for the new stadium last summer, but the project has proceeded in fits and starts since then. Nixon Peabody did get the go-ahead last month to advise New York’s Erie County on its negotiations with the league’s Buffalo Bills on a new stadium lease. The Am Law Daily reported in February that Nixon Peabody was one of 13 firms that submitted request for proposals for the stadium work.

—Thanks in part to Dewey, the Los Angeles Dodgers franchise is on the path out of bankruptcy due to a tentative agreement reached last week under which the team will be sold for a whopping $2.15 billion to a group advised by Foley Lardner. But now Major League Baseball wants the Dodgers to pick up its $7.6 million legal tab for its lawyers from Fox Rothschild, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton Garrison, Proskauer Rose, and White Case, according to sibling publication The National Law Journal. The ex-wife of soon-to-be-former Dodgers’ owner Frank McCourt has already filed papers seeking her $131 million cut of the sale, The NLJ reports. Meanwhile, Bingham McCutchen waits to see whether it will be on the receiving end of a mammoth malpractice suit brought by its former client.

—Jury selection in Roger Clemens’s retrial is set to begin on April 16, according to sibling publication The Blog of Legal Times, and lawyers for the former baseball star are once again battling with the Justice Department over access to documents compiled by DLA Piper during the firm’s investigation into performance-enhancing drug use in the game several years ago, the subject of a March 2008 feature story in The American Lawyer. DLA was ordered last year to turn over documents to Clemens’s counsel from Cooley and Houston’s Rusty Hardin Associates, but now federal prosecutors want to review notes that the firm’s lawyers took during witness interviews, according to The BLT. Clemens’s first trial ended in a mistrial last summer.

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