A leadership fight roiling the National Basketball Players Association has pulled in yet another Am Law 100 firm: Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, which has been retained by a six-member special committee conducting an internal inquiry of the union’s business practices.
 
The committee’s creation was announced Friday when news broke that the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan had subpoenaed the NBPA for documents at issue in an increasingly ugly dispute between union president Derek Fisher and executive director G. William “Billy” Hunter over a planned audit of the NBPA’s finances.
 
The Am Law Daily reported last week on the various roles played by—and legal fees earned by—the union’s outside lawyers at Dewey & LeBoeuf, Patton Boggs, and Steptoe & Johnson. (The latter took over a legal services contract the NBPA previously had with now-defunct Howrey.)
 
Tensions between Fisher and Hunter, which have simmered for some time, escalated when the union president moved to hire Patton Boggs to lead a review of NBPA business practices. Claiming Fisher had failed to follow proper procedures in pushing the probe, the union’s executive committee requested his resignation two weeks ago and scuttled the planned audit. Fisher refused to resign and suggested Hunter was behind the effort to oust him.
 
Subsequent reports by Bloomberg and Yahoo Sports detailed payments made by the NBPA during Hunter’s tenure at the top of the union that richly rewarded consulting, law, and other professional services firms that employed his relatives.
 
One of Hunter’s daughter’s, Alexis Hunter, worked at Howrey and is now special counsel at Steptoe. Another daughter, Robyn Hunter, serves as the union’s director of player benefits, while daughter-in-law and attorney Megan Natsuko Inaba is the NBPA’s director of special events and partnerships.
 
Hunter has publicly denied any allegations of wrongdoing, and on Friday the union said in a statement that it would fully cooperate with the federal investigation.
 
Paul Weiss litigation cochair Theodore “Ted” Wells Jr., litigation partner David Brown, and associate Amy Gold are leading a team from the firm advising the six-member special committee on its internal probe. Hunter has recused himself from the process in order to ensure a fully independent internal inquiry. 
 
This is not Paul Weiss’s first NBA–related assignment. The firm’s Web site shows that in 2006, its lawyers advised an ill-fated bidder group led by former Duke basketball stars Christian Laettner and Brian Davis seeking to purchase 70 percent of the Memphis Grizzlies from billionaire Michael Heisley. That group ultimately missed a deadline to buy control of the team, and both Laettner and Davis have spent years mired in litigation over their finances.
 
The NBPA itself has been without a general counsel since the lawyer who held that job, Gary Hall, died a year ago from natural causes. Hall was a close friend and colleague of Hunter’s dating to their time as Syracuse University students and federal prosecutors in Northern California in the late 1970s. (The union’s top in-house lawyer at the moment is associate general counsel Ronald Klempner.)
 
While Paul Weiss’s fees for advising the NBPA have not yet been made public—the union is expected to file its next annual report in June—pro basketball-related assignments can get pricey, as league management has learned.
 
The Am Law Daily reported several years ago on the millions in fees paid by the NBA to Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz and New York’s Arkin Kaplan Rice in connection with an investigation of former referee Tim Donaghy, who pled guilty to felony federal fraud charges for gambling on games he refereed.