With a new National Basketball Association season set to begin on October 29, The Am Law Daily decided to tally the latest batch of legal fees amassed by the NBA players’ union in connection with the ouster of former executive director G. William “Billy” Hunter.
The National Basketball Players Association fired Hunter, a former federal prosecutor, in February after an internal investigation led by Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison raised concerns about his stewardship of the union during his 17-year stint at the top.
Though Paul Weiss declined to comment at the time about how much it was charging to conduct the Hunter inquiry, which resulted in a 230-page report, its fees for that work—as well as the NBPA’s payments to other legal advisers—are detailed in the union’s most recent LM-2 filing with the U.S. Department of Labor.
The filing covers the 12-month period for the NBPA’s fiscal year from July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013. It shows that Paul Weiss was paid nearly $3.6 million for its internal union review and investigation. The NBPA’s outside lawyers from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe were paid $574,252 and are owed an additional $266,126, according to the LM-2.
Steptoe & Johnson, which continues to employ one of Hunter’s daughters as special counsel, received $8,906 from the NBPA during the period in question and is owed $287,340, according to the filing. Hunter’s decision to retain Steptoe and the union’s decision to put other Hunter relatives—such as daughter Robyn Hunter and daughter-in-law Megan Natsuko Inaba—on its payroll are among the examples of questionable conduct at the heart of the report prepared by Paul Weiss in connection with its investigation.
The LM-2 further shows that Inaba, an attorney and the NBPA’s former director of special events, was paid $241,631 during the NBPA’s last fiscal year, while Robyn Hunter earned $79,148 in her position as director of player benefits. Both left the union around the time of Hunter’s dismissal earlier this year.
Hunter himself received nearly $2 million in compensation between July 1 of last year and his termination in February—down from the roughly $3 million he received during the union’s previous full fiscal year. NBPA interim executive director Ronald Klempner, who previously served as the union’s general counsel, earned a total of $306,305 during the most recent fiscal year. (The NBPA hired a headhunter last month to help it find a new permanent replacement for Hunter.)
Dewey & LeBoeuf, the now-defunct firm that served as the NBPA’s outside counsel during many a collective bargaining negotiation through former global litigation head Jeffrey Kessler, received a paltry $6,462, according to the union’s Labor Department filing.
Amid Dewey’s collapse, Kessler took a 60-plus team of lawyers to Winston & Strawn, where he now chairs the firm’s antitrust group and coheads its sports law practice. The LM-2 shows that Winston has picked up where Dewey left off, billing the NBPA for $193,920 over the past year.
Other outside firms receiving payments from the NBPA during the period in question include New York’s Olshan Frome Wolosky ($149,000); San Francisco’s Altshuler Berzon ($69,959); New York’s Davidoff Malito & Hutcher ($50,512); Syracuse’s Blitman & King ($16,336); Washington, D.C.’s The Groom Law Group ($10,145); and Fulbright & Jaworski ($5,945), the latter of which has been absorbed into Norton Rose Fulbright. (Ex-leader Hunter had close ties to Blitman & King.) Kenneth Dam, a professor with the University of Chicago Law School, received $15,554 in exchange for arbitration work.
Former Crowell & Moring litigation partner Peter Ginsberg, who now has his own practice in New York, received $9,200 from the union for work related to the Paul Weiss–led internal review and investigation, while Houston-based employment lawyer Patrick Flynn received another $10,634, according to the LM-2 filed by the NBPA.
Hunter, meanwhile, did not go away quietly. He responded to the Paul Weiss report and his subsequent firing by hiring Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan to pursue legal action against the union.
In May, Hunter stepped away from Quinn Emanuel—whose litigation expertise can be costly—and hired Sidley Austin to represent him in a suit filed in California state court in Oakland against the NBPA, former union president Derek Fisher, and Fisher’s publicist Jamie Wior. Kirkland & Ellis partner Andrew Kassof is representing Fisher and Wior, while the union is being advised by Orrick and Weil, Gotshal & Manges partner James Quinn. (The NBPA’s LM-2 shows $6,876 as being owed to Weil.)
In August, the breach of contract and defamation suit was removed to state court in Los Angeles due to an alleged conflict of interest involving Hunter and a judge overseeing the case. That same month, NBA players elected Los Angeles Clippers star point guard Chris Paul as the union’s new president. Even with Paul pledging to move the embattled union forward, there will certainly be plenty more NBA-related legal work to do—and some firms and attorneys are positioning themselves to take advantage.
This month, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips brought back Los Angeles–based entertainment litigation partner Steven Goldberg, who has advised many current and former NBA players. Across the country, Williams & Connolly partner James Tanner Jr. has left that firm, which is well-versed in advising NBA players, to start his own sports and entertainment group, according to Bloomberg. Tanner, 45, has taken with him several members of Williams & Connolly’s sports practice to start Arlington, Virginia–based firm Tandem Sports + Entertainment.
Hail to the Red*****?
The ongoing debate over the whether the Washington Redskins should dump their nickname because it is offensive to Native Americans and others has ensnared high-profile political and sports columnists, special interest groups, President Barack Obama, and now one of Washington, D.C.’s best-known advocates.
Lanny Davis, a lawyer and crisis manager who branched out on his own three years ago (The American Lawyer also had this award-winning profile of the Beltway maestro), has been retained by Redskins owner Daniel Snyder to defend the team’s increasingly controversial name.
Snyder isn’t afraid of a fight—the litigious former public relations executive has sued newspapers over unfavorable stories and is currently pressing a malpractice case against Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft that the firm failed to defeat last month, according to sibling publication the New York Law Journal.
In interviews conducted since he was hired earlier this month, Davis, who has a history of representing controversial clients (not all of whom promptly pay for his services), says he is working to persuade Snyder, whom he considers a friend, to soften his tone.
In 2011, former Redskins general counsel and COO David Donovan cited personal reasons as driving his decision to leave the team and return to Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, where he is a litigation partner in Washington, D.C. Eric Schaffer now serves as the team’s general counsel.
Around the Horn
—A high-powered legal team helped Mark Cuban prevail this week in an insider-trading brought by the SEC against the Internet entrepreneur, TV personality, and owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks. Lawyers from Brown Rudnick, Cooley, Fish & Richardson, and Latham & Watkins—some of them once affiliated with Dewey & LeBoeuf—represented Cuban at trial, according to sibling publication The Am Law Litigation Daily. Fish & Richardson partner Thomas Melsheimer, a recent addition to the team who handled openings and closings, has stood up for Cuban in past and once penned an epic summary judgment motion on behalf of the Mavs owner.
—The collegiate sports landscape could be vastly different in the future as a result of last month’s settlement between a class of former college athletes and videogame maker Electronic Arts. Sibling publication The Recorder reports that the agreement leaves the National Collegiate Athletic Association—represented by Munger, Tolles & Olson and Schiff Hardin—as the sole remaining defendant in a case that accuses the organization of violating its contractual obligations to former players by selling the rights to their names and likenesses to EA and others. Players, represented by Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, are reportedly set to receive $40 million under the settlement’s terms, and EA has said it will no longer make a popular college football game.
—The Am Law Daily caught up in April with Schiff Hardin antitrust litigation head Gregory Curtner, who joined the firm last year from Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone and remains one of the NCAA’s go-to outside lawyers. Now the embattled organization has drawn the attention of Winston’s Kessler, who according to Bloomberg is seeking to start the first large firm practice geared toward representing college athletes. Tim Nevius, a Winston associate and former associate director of enforcement at the NCAA, will cochair the practice with litigation partner David Greenspan.
—While some college football players are donning wristbands to show solidarity with one another, the new College Football Playoff officially unveiled this week its 13-member selection committee. The group, which includes former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (a choice not popular with everyone), also includes two lawyers: University of Southern California athletic director Patrick Haden and former Rhodes Scholar finalist and current West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck.
—U.K. publication Legal Week reports that Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer partner Tim Jones, the former managing partner of the Magic Circle firm’s London office, has been named general counsel of England Rugby, the entity organizing the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Last month, Magic Circle rival Clifford Chance became the official legal services provider for the tournament after prevailing in a competitive bid process, according to Legal Week.
—In September, the National Women’s Soccer League completed its inaugural season with eight teams. Latham, which has longtime ties to the U.S. Soccer Federation, the sport’s governing body in the U.S., advised on the creation of the league and has continued to provide counsel on a variety of governance, operations, tax, and IP work, according to a press release issued by the firm.
—Jones Day represented a group of Indonesian investors this week in connection with their acquisition of a 70 percent stake in storied Italian soccer team Inter Milan for roughly $406 million, according to sibling publication The Asian Lawyer, which notes that Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton took the lead for the team and its former majority shareholder Massimo Moratti. Separately, The New York Times reported this week that another newly minted soccer team owner, U.S. auto parts magnate Shahid Khan, is seeking to fuse the operations of the National Football League’s Jacksonville Jaguars and the English Premier League’s Fulham FC, a franchise he bought for roughly $300 million this summer thanks to the efforts of Squire Sanders, according to our previous reports.
—A career in the legal field can always open up new doors. Newsweek reports that Noel Biderman, a lawyer and former sports agent, got the idea to start Ashley Madison, the increasingly profitable online dating and social networking service for those in the market for extramarital affairs, when his former Canadian basketball player clients expressed terror at the thought of their wives joining them while they played professionally overseas. But Biderman isn’t merely another lawyer looking to profit from a potential divorce—he believes his site saves marriages, rather than destroy them.