Jonathan Vilma disappointed by Saints bounty hearing schedule

METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma expressed disappointment Friday that the new bounty hearings schedule virtually prevents him from being able to personally confront his accusers.

Vilma wanted to be present for witness interviews with former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and former defensive assistant Mike Cerullo, who assisted the NFL's investigation into New Orleans' cash-for-hits pool.

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According to documents obtained this week by The Associated Press, the NFL is responsible for producing Cerullo in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, the same day the Saints play in Atlanta against the Falcons. Williams is scheduled to appear Friday morning.

The schedule was set by former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who was appointed to oversee the latest round of appeal hearings in the matter.

Vilma says he appreciates that Tagliabue is directing the NFL to produce witnesses after the league initially resisted. Yet he cannot help but wonder if the hearing schedule was designed to discourage him from attempting to attend the sessions featuring the cross-examination of Williams and Cerullo.

"The witness part is good. I think it's (unfortunate) that I'm not going to be there for Cerullo and Williams when they testify," Vilma said. "These people are why I was (initially) suspended for a year, so I would love to be there. I don't know why (Tagliabue) did that, but whatever."

Even as Tagliabue moves the process forward, a federal judge still is considering arguments by players that Tagliabue should be removed as arbitrator because he is biased in favor of the NFL. Based on the schedule laid out by Tagliabue, U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan could choose to rule as early as next week.



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Vilma, Saints defensive end Will Smith, now-Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita and free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove initially were suspended for various lengths, but those punishments were vacated. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell re-issued the suspensions with some modifications, and when the players appealed again, Goodell appointed Tagliabue to oversee the new hearings. Vilma and Smith still are playing pending the outcomes of their appeals and have not served a game of their suspensions.

For now, Williams, Cerullo, Vilma, Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt and NFL chief security officer Jeff Miller are the only scheduled witnesses. They are scheduled to appear in a series of hearings in Washington D.C. and New Orleans from Tuesday through Dec. 4. Tagliabue wrote in the document that he expects to rule shortly after the last hearing.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press