Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma may have passed on the opportunity to prove his case for innocence in front of Commissioner Roger Goodell, but Vilma has unloaded in a 27-page, 180-paragraph civil complaint.
In Vilma’s new lawsuit against the NFL, a copy of which PFT has obtained, lawyer Peter Ginsberg details every alleged flaw in the case against Vilma, and to a certain extent the other players suspended for involvement in the Saints bounty program.
Heavy on factual contentions and light on legal theories, the lawsuit requests only two things: (1) an order of “specific performance” requiring Goodell to rule on the bounty appeals; and (2) a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction preventing the league from implementing the suspension against Vilma if the suspension is upheld.
Along the way, Ginsberg makes the following claims on behalf of Vilma:
1. Vilma was willing to meet with Goodell before the one-year suspension was imposed, but Vilma wanted to review in advance the materials gathered by the league “‘which the NFL contend[ed] provided a basis to investigate Vilma.’” In exchange, “Vilma offered to provide the NFL with complete ‘detail [of] Vilma’s knowledge regarding [the Bounty Program] allegations.” The league declined to do so, so Vilma declined to meet with Goodell.
2. Goodell issued a “gag order” on former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, preventing him from speaking to about about the investigation.
3. Goodell made “personal conclusions and described possible discipline” of players in a March 21 press release, even though he had not disciplined any players and planned to eventually serve as the supposedly impartial arbitrator.
Ginsberg also outlines the alleged flaws in the investigation, focusing on the follwing:
1. The refusal to make certain witnesses available at the June 18 appeal hearing;
2. The failure to deliver the exhibits to be introduced at the June 18 appeal hearing within three days (i.e., 72 hours) of the start of the hearing;
3. The production of only 16 exhibits consisting of 182 pages from a file that supposedly includes 18,000 total documents and 50,000 total pages;
4. The failure to produce any notes taken during witness interviews;
5. The failure to produce original documents;
6. The refusal to produce any potentially exculpatory evidence;
7. The reliance on documents generated after the discipline were imposed;
8. The alleged mischaracterization of the Anthony Hargrove declaration;
9. The alleged mischaracterization of the Anthony Hargrove video from the 2009 NFC title game;
10. The alleged mischaracterization of the September 2011 Mike Ornstein email message regarding an alleged $5,000 bounty on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers;
11. The failure to include the September 2011 Mike Ornstein email message in the evidence to be introduced at the appeal hearing;
12. The alleged mischaracterization of the 2009 email message from Ornstein to Williams, which Vilma claims reflects a commitment by Ornstein to contribute money to Williams’ charitable organization (Ornstein allegedly explained this to Goodell, urging him to confirm it via the charity’s financial documents);
13. Ornstein’s contradiction of the claim that he corroborated the allegation that Vilma placed a $10,000 bounty on Brett Favre prior to the 2009 NFC title game;
14. The failure to make Ornstein available to testify at the June 18 appeal hearing or to produce notes of his interview(s);
15. The strong denial by Saints interim coach Joe Vitt that Vilma placed a bounty on Favre or anyone else;
16. The failure of the league to disclose that Williams never acknowledged to the NFL the existence of a bounty program;
17. The alleged problems with the ledger information apparently leaked to Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports on June 1, 2012, and the failure of the league to introduce the ledger as evidence at the June 18 appeal hearing;
18. The reliance upon the statements of Mike Cerullo, a disgruntled former Saints employee;
19. The problems with the typewritten version of handwritten notes regarding the bounty on Vikings quarterback Brett Favre, which Vilma contends were created “well after” the 2009 NFC title game;
20. The failure to issue a ruling on the appeal by Monday June 25, 2012, one full week after appeal hearings at which Vilma offered no substantive defense.
It’s unknown whether Vilma will get a chance to prove all of these allegations, and whether his ability to do so will result in his suspension being overturned. It’s clear, however, that “Phase Two” has begun — and that it could last a lot longer than Phase One.