SBD/December 11, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Judge Denies NFL's Effort To Sanction Former Player In NFL Films Lawsuit

A clearly unhappy Minnesota federal magistrate judge yesterday denied the NFL’s effort to sanction a former player for disclosing confidential discussions held to settle a lawsuit by retirees against NFL Films, but he admonished the retirees suing the league nevertheless. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan turned down the NFL effort because Bob Lurtsema was only a prospective class member and not one of the named plaintiffs who sued the NFL three years ago to force the league to pay them for their image rights. As a result, Boylan reasoned he was not affected by confidentiality restrictions. Lurtsema attended settlement discussions on Nov. 27, and appeared to violate a gag order by publishing a letter on the talks on a popular retiree blog, Boylan all but blasted Lurtsema for the content of that letter, however, saying it did a disservice to the retirees by mischaracterizing the situation. “While the court declines to find publication of the letter sanctionable, the letter completely ignores numerous issues and the existence of certain legal realities and serious risks involved in the case, and while advising retired players that acceptance of the settlement `should be your own call to make,’ they are only provided limited information and a view into personal animosities which have little relevance to the merits of the case or the settlement,” he wrote. Lurtsema had blasted the NFL’s settlement offer. The plaintiffs appear split between rival law firms, with one, Hausfeld LLC, pushing for the settlement, and others opposing. Those opposing plaintiff firms argued the gag order had been lifted and six named plaintiffs, including Fred Dryer and Dan Pastorini, filed personal declarations to that effect. In response, Boylan ordered those declarations sealed, saying they disclosed confidential information. And he strongly suggested their law firm, Bob Stein LLC, had orchestrated them. “There can be little doubt that the declarations were prepared and circulated for signatures by counsel,” Boylan wrote. The players are seeking class action status for their lawsuit, while the league is trying to have it dismissed. The NFL maintains the players signed away their rights in their contracts, while the retirees contend those rights only extended to the end of the CBAs during their playing days.
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