NFL Lockout Watch, Day 4: No Negotiations Expected Before Injunction Hearing
No NFL labor negotiations "are expected between the two sides" until the April 6 hearing on the players' request for an injunction to stop a lockout, which is scheduled to take place in front of U.S. District Judge Susan Nelson in Minnesota, according to Tom Rock of NEWSDAY. The players "had hoped the case would land in the court of Judge David Doty, who has ruled in their favor against the NFL in the past," but cases are assigned randomly. Saints QB Drew Brees, one of 10 players named as plaintiffs in the players' class-action lawsuit, contends that "not having the case heard by Doty is not a setback." Brees: "That's something the owners seemed to be concerned about." Rock notes Nelson "isn't inexperienced in presiding over football-related matters." She was the "magistrate in the case Dryer v. NFL, in which retired players accused the NFL of exploiting their identities in films, highlight reels and memorabilia without compensation" (NEWSDAY, 3/15). In N.Y., Gary Myers cites sources as saying that the "best-case scenario for the just-decertified" players' group is for Nelson to "rule within two weeks of the hearing." It is "anticipated the players will get the injunction," and with it, the owners "would have to open up the doors to players and the new season would go by 2010 rules" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/15).
AVOIDING JUDGE DOTY: In DC, Mark Maske notes the injunction taking place before Nelson and not Doty "could be significant because the league previously made an unsuccessful attempt to have Doty's oversight of the sport's labor matters terminated, accusing him of appearing partial to players." Barring a switch, Nelson "would hear not only the players' request for a preliminary injunction, but the antitrust complaint filed by players against NFL owners Friday." Nelson was appointed to the federal bench in St. Paul in December "after 10 years as a magistrate judge in the same courthouse." She was "part of the team of lawyers that won a multi-billion dollar settlement against the tobacco industry for the state of Minnesota in 1998" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/15). But in N.Y., Judy Battista notes Doty's absence "could change, particularly because lawyers for the players could file a motion seeking a transfer to him, contending that the antitrust case against the NFL that also was filed Friday is related to the agreement that Doty has long overseen." Then it "would be up to Nelson to decide if it should be transferred to Doty." But an observer of the Minneapolis court said yesterday that "it was unlikely the case would go to Doty now that Nelson has scheduled it" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/15). In Minneapolis, James Walsh noted some observers believe that "since the players' lead attorney, Barbara Berens, was once a clerk of Doty's, the players have an advantage if the case goes to Doty." Berens declined to comment on the case yesterday, but "several area attorneys noted that it is fairly common for attorneys to argue cases before judges for whom they once worked as clerks -- all without a whiff of favoritism or conflict" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 3/15).
NO SPECIAL TREATMENT ON DATE: ESPN's Andrew Brandt noted NFL fans may be upset with the April 6 date for the hearing as taking too long, but he said, "You talk to lawyers and judges people around courtrooms, they're like, 'That's pretty expedited getting April 6th.' We all have a different tunnelvision of what the timeline should be. But this is just like any litigants going to court. The fact they're football players named Tom Brady and Drew Brees may mean something to fans but it doesn't mean anything to courts" ("NFL Live," ESPN, 3/14).
TROUBLE BREWING? In Chicago, Rick Morrissey notes one of the "small details in the NFL lockout is that the league doesn’t have disciplinary power over the players while the labor strife continues." What has "gotten players’ attention in recent years has been the very real threat" that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell "will suspend them and hurt them where it hurts the most: their wallets." Goodell has suspended several star players, including Michael Vick and Ben Roethlisberger for off-field conduct, but Morrissey asks, "With that hard line erased for the time being, what happens now?" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 3/15).
REVERSE! YAHOO SPORTS' Doug Farrar reports there are "political storm clouds brewing for the league that could have a far greater impact" than the two cases in front of Nelson. U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) yesterday said that he "will seek to overturn the NFL's antitrust exemption relating to the league's broadcast deals." Conyers in a statement said, "I will be introducing legislation to repeal the broadcast television antitrust exemption with regard to professional football" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/15).