Judge meets with NFL counsel; mediation to start Thursday

MINNEAPOLIS -- NFL officials met with U.S. Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan for five hours Wednesday in federal court, preparing for the beginning of formal mediation with the players the next day.

NFL general counsel Jeff Pash, senior vice presidents Dennis Curran (labor litigation) and Peter Ruocco (labor relations), outside counsel Bob Batterman, and local counsel Dan Connolly and Aaron Van Oort made up the league's six-man team. The group entered Boylan's chambers at 8:45 a.m. CT, and Connolly and Van Oort left approximately 30 minutes after arriving.

Pash, Batterman, Curran and Ruocco departed just before 3 p.m., with a one-hour lunch break taken in midday.

"We appreciated the opportunity to speak with the chief magistrate judge today and review the issues with him in preparation of our session tomorrow," said Pash, the league's lead negotiator. "And we're looking forward to seeing the players and their representatives tomorrow morning."

Boylan will direct the mediation. And although he'll have an open line of communication with Judge Susan Nelson, who ordered the mediation Monday, these proceedings will be his. Boylan will not be required to report to Nelson.

Nelson ordered the mediation April 6 after hearing the players' request for an injunction to lift the NFL-imposed lockout. In the order, filed by the judge that same day, she said she will rule on the injunction "in due course" and that the mediation wouldn't serve as a de facto stay.

Both parties are expected to bring bigger contingents Thursday because of Nelson's directive that there be decision-making power in the room. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will attend, along with some of the owners.

"I am also looking forward to resuming mediation talks tomorrow with players and their representatives," Goodell wrote Wednesday night on Twitter after participating in a conference call with Miami Dolphins season-ticket holders.

NFL Players Association executive DeMaurice Smith, officially added to the Brady class counsel Friday, is scheduled to attend, too, after withdrawing from a speaking event at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., so he could be in Minnesota.

Boylan on Tuesday met with lawyers for the plaintiffs in the cases known as Brady et al v. National Football League et al and Eller et al v. National Football League et al, which were consolidated by Nelson earlier this week.

The separate meetings were intended to educate Boylan on the arguments of each side as he readies to preside over the mediation. Nelson on Monday also ordered the NFL and the players to file briefs to Boylan.

The players' contingent that met with Boylan for more than four hours Tuesday included a six-man team, including Hall of Famer Carl Eller himself from the Eller class. The Brady class was represented by NFLPA outside counsels Jeffrey Kessler and Jim Quinn and local counsel Barbara Berens.

The Brady class attorneys declined comment upon departure Tuesday, but the Eller group was positive while speaking in generalities about the meeting.

"The mediator was very open, it was a very constructive session, he heard from the Brady plaintiffs and the Eller plaintiffs as to what issues they considered that need to be addressed during mediation," said Michael Hausfeld, the lead attorney for the Eller class. "The mediator intends to have the same type of session tomorrow with the league and the owners, and then, hopefully, to bring everybody together on Thursday to see what areas of agreement can be achieved, and how quickly."

In light of Nelson granting the order to consolidate the cases, one issue for Boylan to understand is how the cases are aligned.

Said Hausfeld: "What happened today at mediation was, again, for the mediator to become knowledgeable about the positions of the Brady plaintiffs and the Eller plaintiffs, and understand their overlap and their positions on the respective issues."

This week's talks will be the first between the NFL and the players since 16 days of collective bargaining at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service before mediator George Cohen ended March 11, the day the NFLPA decertified itself as a union and the NFL imposed the ongoing lockout.

Nelson has offered both sides protection in the court-ordered mediation, saying it cannot be used against either party in any other case.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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