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Philadelphia attorney Richard G. Phillips, the longtime lawyer for the Major League Umpires Association, has filed suit against Baseball Commissioner Alan H. “Bud” Selig and the American and National baseball leagues, claiming they used a smear campaign to force his umpire clients to hire new lawyers. The suit was filed in Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas by attorneys Clifford E. Haines and Theodore J. Caldwell Jr. of Litvin Blumberg Matusow & Young on behalf of Phillips and his law practice, Richard G. Phillips Associates. Also named as defendants in the suit are the umpires’ new union, the World Umpires Association, and its new lawyers, Ronald Shapiro and Shapiro & Olander, as well as several umpires who allegedly played key roles in getting Phillips ousted. But the lead defendant is clearly Selig, who is accused in the suit of harboring “personal animus and dislike” of Phillips due to Phillips’ open support of another candidate for the commissioner’s office. The suit also offers a behind-the-scenes view of the continuing disputes between the umpires and the leagues that culminated in the umpires’ decision to resign en masse — a decision that Phillips says was his idea for appeasing the angry umpires who were considering staging an illegal strike. Phillips says he believed the mass-resignation plan had advantages over a strike because it would provide a “cooling-off period” and because the leagues would be forced to resolve the disputes or risk having to pay out $15 million in severance under the umpires’ generous severance packages. In the wake of the resignations, Phillips claims that Selig and other baseball officials set out to interfere with Phillips’ relationship with the umpires’ union by persuading many of the umpires to rescind their resignations. According to the suit, Phillips became counsel to the Major League Umpires Association in 1979 and worked under a series of retainer agreements, each for a series of five-year terms, the most recent of which was to expire on April 10, 1999. But in late 1998, the suit says, four umpires — David Phillips, Joseph Brinkman, John Hirschbeck and Timothy Welke — set out to convince the MLUA and its membership to sever its longstanding relationships with Phillips by not renewing the retainer. The suit accuses the four of making “false, misleading and malicious statements disparaging the ability, professionalism, and integrity” of Phillips and his firm. Specifically, the suit says, they accused Phillips of abandoning Brinkman during his dispute with the American League and said his job was saved only through the intervention of Ronald Shapiro and his firm. Phillips insists in the suit that he had assured Brinkman he would represent him. That first attempt to oust Phillips failed, the suit says, when the membership “voted overwhelmingly to renew the retainer” in February 1999 for a four-year term. Under the retainer, Phillips was to be paid an annual retainer fee of $55,000, an annual administrative fee of $25,000, and a “fee for services rendered” equal to 2.5 percent of the total compensation set forth in any collective bargaining agreements that he successfully negotiated, modified, extended or amended. But the suit says Phillips’ new lease on life was to be short-lived. Later in 1999, the suit says, Selig decided to “usurp” the leagues’ authority over the umpires so that the commissioner’s office could wield significant control over the negotiations with the umpires’ union and day-to-day supervision of the umpires. Phillips claims that Selig’s plan violated the then-existing collective bargaining agreement. He also attacks Selig’s motives, saying the plan was “undertaken for the purpose of interfering with and injuring the contractual, business and attorney-client relationship between the MLUA and Phillips … the motivation for which was, among other things, the Commissioner’s personal animus and dislike of Phillips, [his] open support of another candidate for the Commissioner’s office and to weaken the MLUA and the various rights and privileges it had obtained on behalf of major league umpires through previous collective bargaining agreements.” Selig abandoned the plan, the suit says, but soon after, concocted a new scheme to assert direct control over the umpires and their employment relationship with the leagues. The American and National leagues resisted the plan, the suit says, but Selig “began unilaterally changing work rules, evaluation systems and working conditions applicable to major league umpires without consulting and/or negotiating with the MLUA.” In doing so, the suit alleges, Selig’s goal was “injuring and interfering with” the MLUA’s relationship with Phillips and his firm. To erode support for Phillips, the suit alleges that baseball officials “made false, misleading and defamatory statements to the national media critical of Phillips and [his firm] in an effort to convince MLUA members that any past or future difficulties in contract negotiations were the fault of Phillips, and not Major League Baseball.” Umpires were unhappy with Selig’s new rules and were close to voting for a strike even though it would have violated their contract, the suit says. It was then that Phillips proposed the mass resignation in which all of the umpires agreed to resign effective Sept. 2, 1999, unless their grievances had been addressed. Phillips says his plan was “overwhelmingly supported” by the union members. But Selig and the American League didn’t cotton to the tactic one bit, the suit says, and set out to “threaten and intimidate various major league umpires” and to “erode support for Phillips.” The National League, he claims, told some umpires that the plan would likely succeed in causing their grievances to be addressed and that it would thwart Selig’s scheme to usurp authority and control over the umpires. Phillips claims that two umpires — Brinkman and Hirschbeck — along with attorney Shapiro, publicly accused Phillips of being incompetent and said his plan was “doomed.” The suit says the three were actually conspiring with Selig and other baseball officials to push the union to fire Phillips, first by persuading umpires to rescind their resignations and later by pressing for termination of Phillips’ contract. Phillips claims that Selig and his office told Shapiro and some of the umpires that the union would get a better deal if Phillips was fired and replaced by Shapiro. Selig also allegedly promised that Major League Baseball would cover any cost that the union incurred to compensate Phillips for breaching his contract. By late July 1999, all of the umpires who resigned had rescinded their resignations. At that point, Phillips claims that Selig concocted a plan in which the American and National leagues would hire replacement umpires from the minor leagues as a pretext to deny major league umpires their right to revoke their resignations. Both leagues opposed the plan, but “were ordered and forced to adopt and carry out the plan by Selig,” the suit alleges. The league presidents later hired 25 new umpires and refused to accept rescissions of the resignations of 22 union members, the suit says. Soon after, the suit says, Shapiro and several umpires created the World Umpires Association “for the express purpose of replacing the MLUA as the recognized bargaining representative.” Phillips claims that the only reason for forming the WUA was to get rid of Phillips by dissolving the union that he represented. In February 2000, the major league umpires voted to decertify the MLUA and to replace it with the WUA, the suit says. Since then, the suit says, the new union has been used “as a guise to terminate the relationship between [Phillips] and the umpires illegally and wrongfully.” Shapiro and Shapiro & Olander now represent the major league umpires in the form of the WUA, the suit says. The suit alleges 11 claims — interference with contract; interference with prospective economic relations; defamation; invasion of privacy-false light; commercial disparagement; fraudulent conveyance; injurious falsehood; conspiracy; quantum meruit; unjust enrichment; and breach of contract.

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