SBJ/April 29-May 5, 2013/Law and Politics

NFL exec’s forgotten email prompts heated exchange between attorneys in lawsuit over Super Bowl seating

A lawyer for the fans suing the NFL over the 2011 Super Bowl seating fiasco questioned whether Bill McConnell, a top league events executive, was in a “drunken state” the night before the game, according to a transcript of McConnell’s March 1 deposition, part of which was filed last week in Dallas federal court. The lawyer, Ahmed Ibrahim, asked the question after McConnell testified he did not remember sending an email that night that is key to the fans’ case.

The league’s lawyer took umbrage at the suggestion, underscoring the vitriol that’s seeped into the lawsuit.

“The purpose of you asking him if he was drunk … serves no permissible discovery purpose,” said Jonathan Pressment, an outside counsel for the NFL, speaking during McConnell’s deposition to Ibrahim, of the Eagan Avenatti law firm. Pressment interrupted Ibrahim repeatedly, according to the transcript, to prevent him from following up on the question of drinking.

“You think it’s an appropriate question to ask an executive if he’s drunk when he sent an email he doesn’t remember sending?” Pressment asked Ibrahim. “This man is an executive of the National Football League. … Have a little respect.”

At issue was an email McConnell sent the night before the game, in which temporary seats were not ready for thousands of fans. He testified that he did not remember it, leading to Ibrahim asking, “Are you in a drunken state when you write emails?” Soon after he asked him, “Sir, are you sober when you write emails?”

The email McConnell wrote to his boss, Frank Supovitz, said, according to Ibrahim, “But, as JJ said, let’s push what we want to do and deal with push-back when it comes.” JJ refers to Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, according the transcript, who Ibrahim argued was behind a move to set a Super Bowl attendance record and, as a result, let standards slip on the installation of seats.

The Cowboys are no longer a party to the lawsuit. The fans originally sued the team along with the NFL, but the court dismissed the team as a defendant.

McConnell told Ibrahim, “I can only guess as to what my motivation was for posing or attributing something to JJ when I can’t sit here right now to tell you with certainty that I knew or can.”

The tenor in the lawsuit has slipped noticeably. The NFL in February asked the court to sanction Ibrahim for walking out of a deposition. The league later dropped the motion after the judge held a hearing on the matter March 27 and “had some very stern words for Plaintiffs’ counsel regarding their improper conduct at this deposition,” according to an NFL filing last week. Also last week, the NFL asked the court to order Eagan Avenatti to pay for the cost of the most recent filings, which cover the NFL’s objection to the requested deposition of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Twice the court has turned down the plaintiffs’ request, ruling Eagan Avenatti can return with a new motion for deposition if it can’t secure information from other executives. That’s the impetus behind the most recent effort to depose Goodell, to which the NFL replied.

“Given the absence of any legitimate basis upon which to demand the Commissioner’s deposition, it is clear that Plaintiffs’ only purpose in seeking the Commissioner’s deposition is to harass him,” the NFL motion said. “Indeed, if Plaintiffs’ questioning of the three NFL executives already produced for deposition in this action is indicative of the avenues of inquiry that Plaintiffs intend to pursue with the Commissioner, the Commissioner can expect to face irrelevant and patently inappropriate questioning.”

Michael Avenatti, a partner in Eagan Avenatti, did not respond for comment on whether Ibrahim was actually accusing McConnell of being drunk or using the suggestion to underscore a contention that it is ludicrous the executive could not remember the emails.

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