As the fight moved from federal court to state court, Hennepin County District Judge Gary Larson asked for and received assurances from NFL attorneys Joseph Schmitt and Dan Nash that the league will not take immediate action against the Williamses ahead of the season. One of the complicated legal issues that Larson needs to decide is whether any temporary restraining order against the suspensions remains in place.
"I'll move expeditiously. ... But I'm also going to do it in a very deliberate fashion," Larson said.
After The Associated Press earlier reported that the league wouldn't try to enforce the suspensions, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello clarified the situation, saying the league indeed intends to impose the bans against the Williamses at the start of the regular season. As is standard procedure, Aiello said, suspensions that take effect during the regular season don't prevent players from participating in preseason activities, including training camp and games.
Suspensions could hurt
The Williamses, who aren't related, tested positive last year for a banned drug that can mask the use of steroids, though they aren't accused of taking steroids. They took the weight-loss supplement StarCaps, which contained the diuretic bumetanide, which wasn't listed on the label. The NFL has acknowledged that it knew StarCaps contained the banned drug, and the players say the league wrongly failed to share that information.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson dismissed most of the Williamses' lawsuit but sent the case back to state court to resolve two remaining claims under Minnesota laws. Magnuson denied a request from the NFL Players Association to keep the suspensions of the two Vikings and three current and former New Orleans Saints players on hold while the union and league appeal different parts of his decision.
Larson told both sides to file briefs addressing two disputed issues that need to be addressed relatively soon: whether any order blocking the suspensions remains in force, and whether he even has jurisdiction to hear the case. The last of the briefs is due June 22.
Peter Ginsberg, the lawyer for the Williamses, argued that the temporary restraining order Larson issued when the two players originally filed their lawsuit last December, and that Magnuson kept in place after the case was transferred to federal court, was never lifted. Schmitt and Nash argued that Magnuson's order last week canceled that injunction.
Larson didn't express an opinion on which side was right on that point, which affects whether the Williamses will be eligible to play in the first game of the regular season on Sept. 13.
Ginsberg told the judge that his clients are eager to go to trial as soon as possible on the remaining claims in their lawsuit, which involve state laws on when and how employers can require their employees to submit to drug testing and prohibiting employers from disciplining employees for using a legal substance offsite during nonworking hours. But Schmitt urged Larson to stay the proceedings until the NFL's federal-court appeal is resolved. The league says Magnuson should have dismissed those two claims instead of sending them to state court.
Schmitt acknowledged that the appeals process could take at least several months, but he said it made no sense to have proceedings that could produce conflicting results taking place in federal and state courts at the same time.
The players' union plans its own federal appeal on the claims that Magnuson dismissed against the Williamses and New Orleans Saints defensive ends Charles Grant and Will Smith, plus running back Deuce McAllister, who was released by New Orleans after last season and is a free agent. The Williamses haven't decided whether to file a federal appeal themselves, Ginsberg said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.