Who's who in the NCAA antitrust trial
Repping the student-athlete plaintiffs
Berman has obtained some of the largest legal settlements in history. Acting as a special assistant attorney general for 13 states, he obtained a $206 billion settlement, the largest in history, in prosecuting actions against the tobacco industry in 1998. He co-founded his firm Hagens Berman in 1993, and has won multimillion-dollar settlements from major corporations including Visa, Mastercard, Enron, JP Morgan, Boeing and Charles Schwab. In 2003, Berman and his family endowed the Kathy and Steve Berman Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Washington School of Law.
Inside the sports world, this lawsuit against the NCAA has been commonly referred to as “the Kessler case.” Part of the reason could be the tortuous path the litigation has taken and the clunky official name of the case.
The other reason may be that Kessler, who has been the thorn in the sides of professional leagues for decades by representing players and players associations, has set his sights on the NCAA. He has been outside counsel for the NFL Players Association and the National Basketball Players Association and represented many high-profile players, including Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, in different disciplinary matters against the leagues.
Kessler has litigated some of the most famous sports antitrust cases in history, including McNeil v. the NFL, the 1992 landmark antitrust jury trial considered a major step in the establishment of free agency in the NFL.
Simon, a partner in Pearson, Simon & Warshaw, is a plaintiff’s attorney specializing in class-action and antitrust litigation.
In 2015, Simon was co-lead counsel on a case that alleged 12 major banks fixed prices in a market for credit default swaps, which resulted in a $1.865 billion settlement, one of the largest antitrust settlements in history. He also brought a case against the makers of flat-screen TVs, which resulted in an $87 million verdict in San Francisco federal court. Simon was named the 2018 Antitrust Lawyer of the Year by the Antitrust, UCL and Privacy Section of the California Lawyers Association.
Repping the NCAA, conferences
To say Wilkinson is a formidable woman would be an understatement. The daughter of a Navy submarine captain, Wilkinson was a captain in the Army before attending law school. A graduate of Princeton and the University of Virginia School of Law, Wilkinson was an assistant U.S. attorney and prosecuted some of the government’s most high-profile cases, including those against former Panamanian military leader Manuel Noriega and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
She is known for the closing argument in the McVeigh case, convincing a jury to give him the death penalty. “Look into the eyes of a coward and tell him you will have courage,” Wilkinson told the jury in that 1997 case, according to news reports. “Tell him he is no patriot. He is a traitor and deserves to die.”
She has won numerous honors, including the U.S. Attorney General’s Exceptional Service Award.
She was a partner at powerful law firm Paul Weiss, prior to becoming a founding partner of her own firm, Wilkinson Walsh & Eskovitz.
The reason the antitrust trial against the NCAA is being heard in September, rather than December as U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken originally ordered, is because Wilkinson is representing FedEx in a case brought against the shipping company by the state of New York alleging it illegally shipped contraband cigarettes to the state.
Proskauer partner Williams has represented high-profile individuals, including former Disney President Michael Ovitz, former Paramount Pictures CEO Brad Grey and talk show host “Dr. Phil” McGraw, in major litigation. He also has defended major corporations, including Johnson & Johnson in a 2017 case that alleged its baby powder caused ovarian cancer, and Wells Fargo in a case alleging mismanagement of pension funds in 2013. He is also a former assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles who prosecuted fraud, racketeering and money laundering cases.
A former student athlete, Williams played four years on the Yale varsity basketball team and received the George McReynolds Award as the team’s Most Valuable Defensive Player his senior year.
Judge Claudia Wilken
Wilken is the senior district judge for the Oakland Courthouse of the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California. She was appointed to her position by President Bill Clinton in 1993, after serving as a U.S. magistrate judge for 10 years. She previously was a staff attorney in the federal public defender’s office and an adjunct professor at the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. She was the trial judge that ruled in favor of student-athlete plaintiffs in O’Bannon v. the NCAA in 2014.