Jon Vilma says Goodell shouldn’t be allowed to pick next arbitrator

Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma didn’t want Commissioner Roger Goodell to preside over the internal appeal of Vilma’s suspension.  Vilma got his way.

Now, Vilma doesn’t want Goodell’s designee to preside over the internal appeal of Vilma’s suspension.  Vilma may get his way.

Ultimately, Vilma wants Judge Helen Berrigan to appoint the arbitrator.

“In appointing Tagliabue, Goodell has shown beyond any doubt that he simply cannot be allowed to appoint the arbitrator to adjudicate this matter,” Vilma’s lawyer, Peter Ginsberg, writes in his most recent legal filing, “and the time has come for the Court to appoint a person who can fairly and impartially resolve the instant dispute according to the standards demanded by federal law.”

In attacking the appointment of Tagliabue, Vilma points to various factors that have been mentioned here in recent days.  Tagliabue works for Covington & Burling, the law firm that represents the NFL in the bounty litigation and other matters.  In 2010, the NFL paid Covington & Burling more than $3.8 million in fees.  In 2010, Tagliabue received $1 million in base compensation from the NFL, along with $7.583 million in deferred compensation and retirement benefits.
Vilma also explains that that, on October 22, he requested more information about money paid to Tagliabue and Covington & Burling since Tagliabue’s tenure as Commissioner ended, along with details regarding legal services provided by Covington & Burling to the NFL and its teams.  Vilma contends that the NFL refused to provide the information.

“Tagliabue cannot serve as an impartial arbitrator without compromising Covington & Burling’s and his representation of Goodell and the NFL,” Ginsberg writes.  “Any arbitration award short of a total affirmation of Goodell’s punishment conflicts, ostensibly at least, with what is the NFL’s best interests.  Likewise, any arbitration award challenging or rejecting Goodell’s conduct in this matter could jeopardize Goodell’s position in the pending defamation case.  If Tagliabue finds – as he should – that Goodell imposed discipline without basis, it follows that Goodell’s comments concerning the purported Bounty Program were reckless or in disregard of the truth.  Tagliabue thus would be in a position of issuing an award that exposes his client to liability for defamation.”

Though the NFL will respond by pointing to the fact that lawyers like Jeff Pash, who works in-house for the league, have served in this same capacity in the past, the fact that Tagliabue has a relationship with a firm that has a lucrative, ongoing, attorney-client relationship with the league creates the appearance of potential impropriety, which usually is enough to trigger judicial intervention.

Either way, we’ll have an answer by next week.  And it won’t be a surprise if Judge Berrigan disqualifies Tagliabue.

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