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Playing referee in a dispute between the lawyers representing a group of baseball umpires and its new union, a federal judge has issued a strict protective order requiring the plaintiffs and their lawyers not to use any financial information they receive from the union for any purpose other than the litigation. In Bonin v. World Umpires Association, Judge Harvey Bartle III of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania found that the protective order is warranted because the WUA has legitimate fears about possible misuse of its financial records. “In our view, the WUA has established with the proper specificity the good cause necessary to restrict the use of its financial information to this lawsuit only. At this point, its privacy interest outweighs the public’s right to know,” Bartle wrote. The plaintiffs are officers and members of the Major League Umpires Association, the union that formerly represented umpires before it was decertified. The Major League Umpires Association was replaced by the WUA after a contested election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board. The suit focuses on the WUA’s requirement that all umpires must either be members of the union or pay it a “financial core fee.” The plaintiffs are challenging both the validity and the calculation of the fee. The collective bargaining agreement with the WUA says the financial core fee “shall be limited to the umpire’s share of those union expenses that are related to collective bargaining or the administration of collective bargaining agreements.” In discovery, plaintiffs’ attorney Patrick C. Campbell of Richard G. Phillips Associates demanded that the WUA produce copies of all invoices or bills for services rendered by attorneys, law firms or accounting firms for 1999 through 2001; copies of any and all general ledgers for 1999 through 2001; and copies of the WUA’s financial statements for 1999 through 2001. The WUA’s lawyers — Laurence M. Goodman of Willig Williams & Davidson in Philadelphia and Joel A. Smith and Travis M. Mastroddi of Kahn Smith & Collins in Baltimore — said they agreed the documents are discoverable but asked for a protective order. When Campbell refused the request, the defense lawyers turned to Bartle. In its brief, the defense team argued that disclosure of WUA’s financial books and records, without a protective order, will cause the union severe injury. First, it said, the union is currently battling several other lawsuits — including one in which Campbell’s firm is the plaintiff — and disclosure of the union’s finances and legal costs would give those plaintiffs unfair access to inside information. Without a protective order, they said, the MLUA could also use the information against the WUA in future labor representation efforts. And if the information fell into the hands of Major League Baseball, they said, it would give management an unfair advantage at the bargaining table. Bartle agreed with every argument. “As a union, one of the WUA’s functions is to negotiate with Major League Baseball the wages, benefits and working conditions for all umpires. If Major League Baseball should obtain detailed knowledge about the finances of the WUA through discovery in this case, the scales will undoubtedly tip unfairly against the union and its members at the negotiating table,” Bartle wrote. Bartle also said he was concerned because the plaintiffs are all members of a “rival” union that was ousted by the WUA after a “hotly contested” certification election. Although the plaintiffs are certainly entitled to “full and complete information” from the WUA to wage their challenge to the financial core fee, Bartle found it necessary to limit their use of the documents. “Plaintiffs should not be allowed carte blanche to utilize the information legitimately disclosed in discovery to work mischief on other fronts either to discredit or undermine the WUA or its members,” Bartle wrote. The judge found that Campbell’s refusal to agree to any limitation “supports the validity of the WUA’s concern.” In the protective order, Bartle decreed that the WUA’s financial information “shall be utilized solely in connection with this action and shall not otherwise be disclosed.” Although the plaintiffs’ lawyers can give the documents to expert witnesses, Bartle ordered that “any expert must first sign an affidavit attesting to having read the court’s order and agreeing not to disclose said information outside this action without further order of court.”

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