SBJ/December 16 - 22, 2002/Labor Agents

NFLPA to look for rules violations in Steinberg vs. Dunn testimony

The NFL Players Association will review testimony from the Leigh Steinberg-David Dunn trial to investigate whether any of the agents involved in the trial violated union rules governing conduct and solicitation, said an NFLPA source.

The probe will focus on whether agents interfered in the contracts of players who were clients of other agents, the source said. NFL players testified during the trial that Dunn and his associates contacted them about joining his firm and in some cases provided them with unsolicited letters that would fire his former partner, Steinberg.

The NFLPA will also examine whether any NFLPA-certified agent violated a regulation that prohibits agents from engaging in conduct that is unlawful, dishonest, fraudulent, deceitful or reflects adversely on the agent's fitness, or jeopardizes the agent's effective representation of NFL players.

NFLPA-certified contract advisers who either testified at the trial or were subjects of testimony include Dunn, Steinberg, Joby Branion, Jeff Moorad and Scott Parker.

Richard Berthelsen, general counsel for the NFLPA, would say only this: "We do not comment on ongoing investigations, but we made it clear before the trial began that any evidence that comes out of the case which indicates a violation of our regulations would be dealt with once the testimony was in and the jury rendered its verdict."

Both Mark Humenik, general counsel for Dunn's agency, Athletes First, and David Cornwell, general counsel to Steinberg's firm, said they welcomed the investigation.

Humenik said the union hasn't yet contacted Dunn, but Cornwell said he had heard from investigators asking for certain pieces of information, "which we are in the process of pulling together and providing to them."

On Nov. 15, a Los Angeles jury awarded Steinberg's firm $44.66 million, including $20 million in punitive damages from Athletes First, and $2.66 million in punitive damages against Dunn himself.

The jury said that Dunn and Athletes First, the firm Dunn started after leaving Steinberg, engaged in tortious interference with contract and unfair competition.

Although the NFLPA has launched the investigation into all of the agents involved, the union will actually be in court on Jan. 8 to make a motion that could help Dunn, who represents about 50 NFL players.

Even though the jury rendered its verdict in November, the case is still technically open, as Judge Ronald Lew has not yet ruled on what are known as the "equitable claims" in the case. Those claims include a request by Steinberg's lawyers that Lew award Steinberg an additional $23.5 million in unjust enrichment damages and that Lew bar Dunn from representing any players until Dec. 31, 2004, when his five-year contract with Steinberg's firm would have expired.

If the judge grants the injunction, it would prevent Dunn from representing Athletes First's NFL clients, as well as from recruiting the class of 2003 NFL rookies. Dunn is one of two agents who appear to be the front-runners to sign USC quarterback Carson Palmer, who is projected to be the No. 1 pick in the draft by ESPN draft reporter Mel Kiper Jr.

The NFLPA will file a motion asking Lew not to bar Dunn from representing NFL players.

"We are not supporting either side and we have never supported either side in this case," Berthelsen said. "The only thing we are supporting is our exclusive jurisdiction over who can or cannot be an agent."

Said Steinberg attorney Kent Roger: "We are not saying that David Dunn should or should not be an agent. He agreed to be an agent for us and took a $7 million contract to do that. We are enforcing his contract with us."

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