Call it a Hail Mary pass that sailed out of bounds. The National Football League, represented by Covington & Burling and Faegre & Benson, claimed in an appeal to the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals that Minneapolis federal District Court Judge David Doty had shown bias against the league in his appointed role resolving labor disputes between the league and the players. In particular the NFL asserted that the 79-year-old judge abused his authority when he overturned an arbitrator’s decision and let quarterback Michael Vick keep a $20 million bonus paid by the Atlanta Falcons. It also pointed to other actions by the judge, including interviews he had given to newspapers, that supposedly showed his bias.
On Tuesday, the appellate court upheld Doty’s ruling on Vick’s bonus, and found that the judge had done nothing that should prevent him from continuing his 16-year role overseeing the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement with the players union. Jeffrey Kessler of Dewey & LeBoeuf made the oral argument for the union. The players’ group was also represented by Weil, Gotshal & Manges, and Minneapolis’ Lindquist & Vennum.
For a good recap of the dispute, see this article from the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
The court did, however, rap Doty on the knuckles for agreeing to be interviewed for two articles about his role overseeing NFL affairs. “There is a danger that may flow from even seemingly innocuous statements to the press. Judges should not create the impression that they covet publicity,” the panel wrote.
Gregg Levy of Covington referred questions to an NFL spokesman, who provided this statement: “Our focus is on negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with the players and the court’s decision should not impact the negotiations in any way. The Eighth Circuit’s opinion also upheld the district court’s bonus forfeiture ruling in large part because it found the [collective bargaining agreement] forfeiture provision ambiguous. That is something that we will seek to change at the bargaining table to ensure that bonus payments are paid to players who comply with their contracts and perform on the field.”
We put a call in to LeBoeuf’s Kessler but have not yet heard back.
This article first appeared on The Am Law Litigation Daily blog on AmericanLawyer.com.