Aug/30/12 09:09 AM Filed in: Jonathan Vilma
Nashville, Tenn. -- As suspended New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma prepares for another round of hearings on Thursday, his legal team is confident it can convince an appeals board that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell overstepped his boundaries by ruling on and handing down such harsh penalties against four current and former Saints players for their roles in what the NFL has called a pay-for-performance bounty scheme.
An appeals board made up of retired federal judges Fern Smith and Richard Howell and Georgetown Law professor James Oldham will hear the players' appeal of system arbitrator Stephen Burbank. The hearing will be held in New York.
On June 4, Burbank ruled Goodell did indeed have the authority to punish them for conduct detrimental to the league.
The players have fought the ruling, contending that if any rules were broken, then the matter should have been punished under the standard on-field violations, which would call for a separate arbitrator not Goodell.
On the eve of the latest appeal hearings, though, Ginsberg, who has regularly sparred with the league over its ruling and suspensions, said it's important to put the hoopla and the ongoing circus surrounding the case in its proper perspective at a time when so many people along the Gulf Coast are being hammered by Hurricane Isaac.
"I remain confident that justice and reason ultimately will prevail both in tomorrow's hearing and before the Court in New Orleans," Ginsberg said. "I suggest that we focus our attention on the difficulties facing the people of Louisiana and leave the media campaign for another day."
Thursday's hearing could be critical to Vilma's case.
In a hearing earlier this month seeking a temporary restraining order that would have allowed Vilma to return to the Saints while his case played out, U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan said she was inclined to rule in Vilma's favor but she was uncertain about the authority that she held over the NFL.
During that hearing, seven members of the Saints testified that they never witnessed Vilma offering $10,000 towards a bounty pool to injure opposing quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Brett Favre in the 2009-2010 playoffs.
In delaying her ruling, Berrigan indicated that she would feel more comfortable about her jurisdiction after Vilma and the suspended players have exhausted the appeal's process under the league's collective bargaining agreement.
Berrigan also has urged the players and the NFL to try to reach a settlement, but so for there appears to have few developments.
Vilma has been suspended for the entire 2012 season, while Saints defensive end Will Smith is suspended for four games. Former Saints defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, who was recently released by the Green Bay Packers, has been suspended eight games. And former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita, now with the Cleveland Browns, has been suspended three games.
"From the beginning of this dispute we have challenged whether Commissioner Goodell had jurisdiction to weigh in on the merits of the allegations," Vilma's attorney Peter Ginsberg said.