Update, 6/25/13, 6 a.m. EDT: This story has been revised to include an additional statement from Ropes & Gray partner Michael Fee, who represents Aaron Hernandez, in the seventh paragraph.
Aaron Hernandez, a star tight end for the New England Patriots, is the latest National Football League player looking at iron bars instead of the gridiron. But unlike other players who have run afoul of the law, Hernandez has tapped an Am Law 100 firm for legal assistance.
While an official arrest warrant for Hernandez has yet to be issued, he does face potential obstruction of justice charges in connection with a Boston-area murder probe, and as a result the former University of Florida star has retained Michael Fee, a litigation partner at Ropes & Gray in Boston and a member of the firm’s executive committee.
Hernandez's hiring of Fee comes as authorities continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd, a semiprofessional linebacker for the Boston Bandits who was reportedly dating the sister of Hernandez’s fiancée, and was found dead Monday a mile from the Patriots star's home in North Attleborough, Massachusetts. Police subsequently searched his home and found its security system destroyed, while Hernandez's cell phone was later turned over to investigators in pieces.
Fee did not initially respond to a request for comment on how he came to represent Hernandez, who was born in Bristol, Connecticut (the headquarters of sports and entertainment giant ESPN), and signed a five-year extension with the Patriots last August on a $41.1 million contract. A Ropes spokesman did provide The Am Law Daily with a statement that Fee, who was reportedly at Hernandez's home on Saturday, has issued to the press.
"It has been widely reported in the media that the state police have searched the home of our client, Aaron Hernandez, as part of an ongoing investigation," Fee said. "Out of respect for that process, neither we nor Aaron will have any comment about the substance of that investigation until it has come to a conclusion."
On Monday, a Ropes spokesman provided The Am Law Daily with the following additional statement on Fee's behalf.
"Over the past week, our client, Aaron Hernandez, has been the subject of a relentless flood of rumors, misinformation, and false reports in the media. These include the repeated publication of a supposedly confirmed report that an arrest warrant had been issued for Aaron, a report that was exposed as untrue. None of these false reports come from official sources and we appreciate the professionalism and restraint shown by the Bristol County District Attorney’s Office to date with regard to its public statements while its investigation is underway. Out of respect for that ongoing investigation, we will continue to refrain from commenting on its substance."
Hernandez is represented by the Laguna Hills, California–based Athletes First agency, whose president, Brian Murphy, is a Harvard Law School graduate who began his legal career at Ropes. Murphy, who also did not respond to a request for comment, spoke with The Boston Globe in 2011 about his decision to leave the firm—and Boston—in 1999 to become a California-based sports agent. (Athletes First contract adviser Andrew Kessler is the son of another high-profile Am Law 100 litigator: Winston & Strawn sports law practice cochair Jeffrey Kessler.)
Hernandez's legal woes aren't limited to the Massachusetts murder probe. This week a four-page civil complaint was refiled in federal court in Miami against the Patriots player by a Connecticut man and convicted drug dealer who claims he lost his right eye after Hernandez shot him in the face in February after the two argued outside a Miami nightclub.
Andrew Waks of Miami's Waks & Barnett and David Jaroslawicz of New York's Jaroslawicz & Jaros—the latter whom once filed a high-profile sexual harassment suit against former New York Jets quarterback Brett Favre—are representing plaintiff Alexander Bradley in the case. While no criminal charges have been filed in the matter, at least one company that had been employing Hernandez as a pitchman has dropped the Patriots tight end, who has a troubled past.
On Friday, sports nutrition beverage company CytoSport, maker of products like Muscle Milk, said it had terminated its endorsement contract with Hernandez, who also faces the possibility of a lengthy suspension from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for violating the league's conduct guidelines.
Sports Stadiums Yield Work for Am Law Firms
Though Detroit's recent default on some of its debts may have pushed the beleaguered city even closer to the brink of bankruptcy, the Motor City hasn't given up all hope of restoring some of its lost glory. Even as emergency manager—and former Jones Day partner—Kevyn Orr continues to seek concessions from creditors and retirees, city officials this week announced plans for a $650 million downtown sports arena and entertainment complex in partnership with the National Hockey League's Detroit Red Wings.
The Associated Press reports that the new 18,000-seat arena—which would replace the team’s current home at 32-year-old Joe Louis Arena and will include adjacent residential and retail space—will be built with $367 million in private investments and $283 million in public money. The public portion of the deal will require no new taxes and will be financed solely with existing economic development funds.
The agreement itself, which is essentially a framework for the financing since no construction timeline has been disclosed, still requires the approval of various state and local agencies, as well as Detroit’s city council, which in April approved a $3.35 million legal services contract with Jones Day to help the city restructure a more than $15 billion municipal debt load. Orr was appointed as emergency manager that same month, according to our previous reports.
Orr spokesman Bill Nowling did not respond to a request for comment on whether Jones Day or any other outside firm is advising Detroit on the arena deal with the Red Wings, who are owned by Michael Ilitch, the billionaire founder of the Little Caesar's Pizza chain.
While roughly a half-dozen Am Law 200 firms have grabbed key roles in connection with the Motor City's looming debt restructuring—one that increasingly looks like it will unfold via the largest Chapter 9 proceeding in U.S. history—Ilitch's Detroit-based holding company has turned to Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone for outside counsel on the arena and entertainment complex proposal it put forth in December.
Miller Canfield real estate head Ronald Hodess and partner Stephen Palms are advising Olympia Development—the Ilitch Holding unit that manages the billionaire's real estate assets—on the arena project. Also working on the matter is Michael McLauchlan, vice president of government relations at Ilitch Holdings. (Former Little Caesar's in-house lawyer Stanford Berenbaum was hired in 2011 as general counsel for Ilitch Holdings; Robert Carr serves as general counsel for the Red Wings and Olympia Entertainment, the Ilitch subsidiary that owns the NHL team and Major League Baseball's Detroit Tigers.)
Dickinson Wright is serving as bond counsel to Detroit's stadium authority, which last year helped the city save nearly $6 million by refinancing $61.2 million in public debt on the construction of Comerica Park, the 41,250-seat home of the Tigers that opened in 2000. Dickinson Wright partners that have handled work for the stadium authority include Terence Donnelly, Timothy Stoepker, and Peter Webster.
Also getting into the arena game this week was the city of Las Vegas, which announced a joint venture between sports and entertainment leader Anschutz Entertainment Group and gaming giant MGM Resorts International to build a new $350 million, 20,000-seat sports arena near the Las Vegas Strip by 2016. The facility, which will be built entirely with private money, is designed to lure big-name concerts and a potential pro hockey or basketball franchise to Sin City.
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher senior M&A partner John Williams III and real estate partner Drew Flowers are advising Las Vegas–based MGM Resorts on the transaction. MGM Resorts deputy general counsel Andrew Hagopian III and counsel Laura Norton are handling matters in-house for the company. (John McManus serves as general counsel for MGM Resorts.)
AEG, which last year hired Hogan Lovells for a potential sale of the company before billionaire founder Philip Anschutz took it off the market in March, is being advised on the Las Vegas arena deal by Andrew Friedman and Andrea Jackson of Los Angeles–based real estate boutique Friedman and Associates. AEG's general counsel John Keenan III and chief legal and development officer Ted Fikre are also working on the matter.
Terms of the deal call for the new arena to be constructed in an area between the New York–New York and Monte Carlo casino hotels, both of which are owned by MGM Resorts. AEG, which already owns and operates major arenas in Los Angeles, London, and Berlin, will have the right to sell the proposed facility's naming rights, as well as sponsorships and luxury suites.
In El Paso, work crews have been busy this spring tearing down its old city hall to make way for a new $50 million baseball stadium, part of a $473 million economic redevelopment effort that was recently covered in detail by The New York Times. A state court judge approved a plan in February to issue public bonds to pay for the construction of a home for a future minor league baseball team.
Fulbright & Jaworski has been acting as bond counsel to the city of El Paso through public finance partner Paul Braden in Dallas. Earlier this month the Fulbright name became part of legal giant Norton Rose Fulbright, following the long-awaited merger of the two firms on June 1.
Finally, a stadium that may never be built in the Bay Area is generating work for noted trial lawyer Joseph Cotchett and Proskauer Rose.
Proskauer is advising longtime client MLB in connection with a suit filed against the league this week by the city of San Jose, which is being represented by Cotchett, a name partner at Burlingame, California–based Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy. The city is seeking damages from the league for standing in the way of a potential move by the Oakland Athletics—whose own stadium suffered an embarrassing sewage eruption last weekend—as the result of opposition on the part of local rival the San Francisco Giants.
The Giants have invoked their territorial rights in order to prevent the A's from relocating to San Jose, where the team would like to construct a new 32,000-seat baseball stadium. The San Jose Mercury News reported in late 2011 on the role being played by Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman—a longtime legal adviser to the Giants—in backing a civic group opposing the construction of a new stadium.
The A's are not a party to the 46-page civil complaint filed by San Jose and Cotchett, which effectively challenges baseball's long-held antitrust exemption. While they don't all agree, many lawyers have weighed in on the respective merits of the case, which is likely to hinge on the issue of standing, and we encourage you to read the various takes offered up by SI.com's Michael McCann, NBC Sports's Craig Calcaterra, Fangraphs's Wendy Thurm, ESPN.com's Lester Munson, and Baseball Prospectus's Jason Wojciechowski.
Alex Rodriguez and Jay-Z Have Gordon & Rees in Common
A little more than a year ago this month The Am Law Daily reported on Gordon & Rees's hiring of Wm. David Cornwell Sr., a former founding partner of Atlanta's DNK Cornwell, to join its sports, media, and entertainment practice.
Cornwell, who also serves as executive director of the newly formed National Football League Coaches Association (an organization that represents roughly 500 assistant coaches in the NFL), now has his hands full with two more high-profile sports-related matters.
Earlier this month, New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez added Cornwell to his legal team in connection with an MLB investigation into a South Florida clinic called Biogenesis that the star third basemen allegedly frequented. The Am Law Daily reported earlier this month on the various lawyers involved in MLB's Biogenesis probe and its litigation with Biogenesis founder Anthony Bosch and other former clinic employees, whose cooperation the league is trying to gain in its efforts to punish players it believes have used performance-enhancing drugs.
One of those former employees, a man named Porter Fischer, excoriated MLB this week in an interview with the Miami New Times, which in January broke the news of the Biogenesis operation. Cornwell, who last year helped MLB star Ryan Braun beat a drug suspension (Braun is also caught up in the Biogenesis drama), also publicly lashed out this week against MLB by calling the league's investigation of his client "despicable."
A former University of Miami assistant baseball coach named Jimmy Goins filed suit this week against the school, Biogenesis and its owners, and three newspapers for aiding in the publication of his "highly confidential" medical records, according to sibling publication the Daily Business Review.
As for Cornwell, he has also been retained by Kimberly Miale, an associate with Needham, Massachusetts–based Heifetz Rose currently caught up in a sports agency saga involving hip-hop impresario Jay-Z.
In April, the Brooklyn-born rapper announced he would sell its 0.15 percent stake in the National Basketball Association's Brooklyn Nets and form his own sports management business called Roc Nation Sports, which has a partnership with the powerhouse Creative Artists Agency. The start-up subsequently signed high-profile athletes like New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, and New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith.
But the players associations of North America's major sports leagues require individuals to be certified before signing up union members as clients. The rules are designed in part to prevent situations similar to the one that arose in 1999 when then-rookie running back Ricky Williams hired rapper Master P to negotiate what proved to be a disastrous contract.
Smith's sudden retention of Jay-Z, who at the time was a noncertified agent, caused the National Football League Players Association to investigate the circumstances surrounding the rookie's decision to sign with Roc Nation. The Am Law Daily reported late last year on those lawyers—some of them from Am Law 200 firms—who are licensed to represent NFL players.
Enter Miale, a registered contract adviser with the NFLPA who was hired by Roc Nation last month and is now identified as the agent representing Smith, a former West Virginia University star who has said publicly that Jay-Z didn't recruit him to Roc Nation. (Miale is the only union-certified agent currently employed by Roc Nation.)
Indeed, it appears Jay-Z hasn't had to do much recruiting at all. Already other top athletes like Kevin Durant and DeSean Jackson have reportedly expressed interest in signing on with Roc Nation. The rapper-turned-mogul gained a measure of vindication Thursday when the unions representing MLB and NBA players approved his certification.
The NFLPA and Roc Nation met earlier this month, and while its investigation continues, Miale has been confident enough to leave Cornwell behind while attending another meeting this week with union officials. Of course, Cornwell himself has had a much-publicized feud with NFLPA executive DeMaurice Smith, a former partner at Latham & Watkins and Patton Boggs.
Jennifer Justice, a longtime in-house lawyer for Jay-Z's various enterprises, did not respond to requests for comment about Roc Nation's own outside lawyers.