SBJ/October 6 - 12, 2003/Labor Agents

Countersuit: Agent stalled my career

A former recruiter for NFL player agent Hadley Engelhard is suing him for more than $5 million, claiming that Engelhard has used the NFL Players Association to keep him out of the athlete representation business.

Safarrah Lawson, who recruited top-10 NFL draft picks Ryan Sims and Dewayne Robertson for Engelhard, has had his certification as an NFL agent delayed while the players union investigates information in a deposition of Lawson that was provided by Engelhard. Richard Berthelsen, general counsel for the union, acknowledged that Lawson passed the agent test this summer, but denied the union was being used by Engelhard.

"When we investigate a disciplinary case, we are not doing any agent's bidding," Berthelsen said. "Our sole reason for doing so is to determine whether a contract adviser, or in this case a prospective contract adviser, has violated our [agent] regulations. If the information we have regarding someone comes from another agent and it's the truth, it doesn't matter that the agent is in competition with the agent being investigated."

Lawson's attorney, Jefferson Allen, said Lawson did not break any agent regulations and that the deposition does not tell the whole story. "The questions that were asked during the deposition appeared to be designed to solicit information that could be twisted and misconstrued to create a negative impression of Safarrah Lawson," he said. According to the lawsuit, Engelhard's attorneys questioned Lawson on many issues unrelated to the dispute, including his marital fidelity.

Both Allen and Berthelsen said the union's disciplinary committee of players was tentatively scheduled to hear the matter this week.

Meanwhile, Sims has apparently fired Engelhard. The Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle is listed on the NFLPA's Web site as having no agent. Engelhard did not return a phone call, and his attorney, Louis Cohan, would not say whether any clients had fired Engelhard.

Engelhard, owner of Atlanta-based So So Def Sports Management, first sued Lawson in Superior Court in Fulton County, Ga., in July, alleging tortious interference with customer relations, among other things. He sought but was denied a temporary restraining order to bar Lawson from working with Engelhard's clients.

In his countersuit filed late last month, Lawson alleges breach of contract, slander and tortious interference with prospective business relations and asks for at least $2.75 million in actual damages and $3 million in punitive damages. The lawsuit alleges that in addition to providing the deposition, which had not been entered in the court record, to the players union, Engelhard also tried to provide it to a bank officer at the bank where Lawson has a mortgage loan.

Engelhard's attorney, Cohan, said there is nothing illegal about disseminating a deposition transcript. "Anybody can file anything," Cohan said. "We will vigorously defend the counterclaim."

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