NFL denies law firm's request for waiver to represent players

MINNEAPOLIS -- The NFL has rejected a law firm's request for a conflict-of-interest waiver to represent a new group of players seeking to join the antitrust fight against the league.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Thursday the league notified the firm of the denial. The firm later was identified as Barnes & Thornburg of Indianapolis.

"Barnes & Thornburg was recently approached on a matter that, if accepted, would have been adverse to the NFL," the firm said in a statement released Friday. "As in any case where our law firm is asked to be adverse to an existing client, even on an unrelated matter, we will not undertake the new representation without the current client's consent. We contacted the NFL about the matter and the NFL declined to consent to our prospective adverse representation. As we would with any client, we respect the NFL's declination of consent and will not be accepting an engagement adverse to the NFL. Because of client and prospective client confidentiality obligations we are unable to comment further."

Aiello said Thursday it would be inappropriate to allow the firm to work with players in a claim against the NFL while one of its partners represents the league in music licensing for shows on NFL Network and NFL Films.

"While we do not know the specifics of the claims that would be asserted or the players who would be involved, we cannot consent to the firm's request to grant a waiver," Aiello said in an email.

Bryan Clobes, an attorney for the Philadelphia-based firm Cafferty Faucher, said Wednesday that the firm has had "discussions about representing some additional players who want to have a voice" in the court fight. But Clobes said Thursday that the firm the NFL is referring to isn't Cafferty Faucher and stated that his firm hasn't represented the NFL in any matters.

Sports Business Journal reported the group includes about 70 players who are upset that collective-bargaining talks broke off last month. But Clobes told The Associated Press that the number is "nowhere near 70" and the discussions didn't indicate dissatisfaction with the representation for the 10 players listed as plaintiffs on the Tom Brady lawsuit filed March 11.

That was when the collective bargaining agreement expired and the union dissolved to pursue the antitrust suit. The league responded by ordering the lockout.

The players asked U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson to stop the lockout at an April 6 hearing. Her ruling is expected soon. Mediation between the sides has been adjourned until May 16.

The NFL also argued Thursday in a court filing that players don't deserve millions of dollars in damages after a different federal judge ruled against the league in a wrangling more than $4 billion in broadcast rights revenue.

U.S. District Judge David Doty ruled March 1 that the NFL failed to maximize revenue for both sides to share when it negotiated the last round of television contract extensions with the networks.

The players requested revenue "left on the table" in 2009 and 2010, but lawyers for the league wrote Thursday there's no evidence that networks would have paid more in those years to remove work-stoppage provisions in the deals that would bring the NFL money even if no games are played in 2011.

The league argued that because a special master for Doty previously awarded $6.9 million in damages to the players, there's no legal basis for their request. The NFL wrote that lawyers for the players "never once claimed, argued for or briefed the issue of punitive damages" until now and accused them of trying to "second guess" special master Stephen Burbank with this strategy.

The players requested the $4 billion "war chest" be kept away from the owners so they couldn't use it to "continue to fund" the lockout against them. They also asked for at least three times the total amount of compensation awarded by the court.

Doty will preside over a May 12 hearing to consider the damages request.

The players used a written claim by finance expert David Schulte in their last filing March 31 to argue for the damages, but the NFL countered Thursday that Schulte's prior testimony in front of the special master contradicted the latest request.

According to the court document, Schulte told Burbank he had no "clue" about how to accurately assess an appropriate amount of monetary damages.

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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