The Work

January 16, 2009 1:06 PM

The Roger Clemens Chronicles: An Enhanced Look at Baseball and the Law

Posted by Brian Baxter

Spring training is weeks off, but baseball-related legal news--mostly involving Major League Baseball's flagship team the New York Yankees--is still in play.

On Tuesday, Yankee president and Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld senior counsel Randy Levine was subpoenaed to testify before a New York State Assembly committee probing taxpayer financing for the team's sparkling new stadium.

David Sussman

The same day, one of Levine's predecessors in Yankee management, former COO and general counsel David Sussman (right), announced he was joining Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom as of counsel in the firm's sports and entertainment law practice.

A federal grand jury has also reportedly been convened to investigate whether ex-Yank Roger Clemens committed perjury in congressional testimony when he denied using performance-enhancing drugs. The Rocket's former Covington & Burling lawyer from those February 2008 proceedings appears headed for the Justice Department--not for his former client, but as an employee.

All that Yankees news making you nauseous? Well, there's also news out of that other city of Angels--Anaheim.

So, without further ado, the Clemens Chronicles:


Ever wonder what it would be like to work for George Steinbrenner if your name wasn't Costanza?

Just ask David Sussman. From 1989 to 1997, Sussman was the Yankees' executive vice president, general counsel, and chief operating officer. He handled all legal functions for the franchise, from stadium lease issues to player contracts to TV and radio broadcast rights--all the while dealing with The Boss.

"[George] is extremely difficult, demanding, and opinionated--more so than most as he raises it to an art form," Sussman says. "But he also is someone who I'll always be grateful for giving me the opportunity to work for the Yankees, which I have a tremendous sentimental attachment to and passion for having grown up in New York and been a lifelong fan."

Sussman helped sign Don Mattingly to his last contract, negotiated with city and state officials for a new stadium when the team was threatening to move to New Jersey, and advised on the labor issues and disputes between small- and big-market teams that were tearing apart the game in the mid-nineties. (Check out this New York Times story for an anecdote on how Sussman took one of Steinbrenner's sons, Hal, under his wing when the owner was temporarily suspended from baseball for three years.)

Sussman was also in charge of all major player acquisitions, be it negotiating with super agent Scott Boras for star-crossed amateur prospect Brien Taylor or key contributors to championship teams like David Cone, Paul O'Neill, Darryl Strawberry, and Cecil Fielder.

The team's World Series win in 1996 was it's first such victory in nearly 20 years and Sussman still has a ring commemorating the win that he calls a "showstopper" whenever he wears it. (Sounds like a great tactic for client meetings.)

He left the Yankees the next year to become executive vice president and general counsel of MTV Networks, which would prove to be plenty wild in its own way. Sussman had a front row seat in 2004 for Janet Jackson's halftime wardrobe malfunction with Justin Timberlake at Super Bowl XXXVIII. MTV was producing the show while its sister station, CBS, broadcast the game. The incident touched off a huge set of issues that led the Federal Communications Commission to conduct an investigation.

"It really changed the attitude of a lot of people, particularly in government, on obscenity and decency," Sussman says. "So I was directly involved in trying to understand how it happened and assuring ourselves, management, and then the FCC that there was no participation by MTV."

There were dozens and dozens of other issues at MTV that never hit the press--"a testament to how well they were handled," laughs Sussman--but Sussman left the network in 2007 as part of a corporate restructuring by MTV parent Viacom. He then took a position with a private equity firm heading up its media, sports, and entertainment practice, but it turned out to be a poor time to take a job in the PE world.

While he received offers from several firms, Sussman says he was intrigued by Skadden's sports and media platform. The firm does work for almost all the major sports leagues and partners Jeffrey Miskin, a former chief legal officer for the National Basketball Association, and Shepard Goldfein, are top outside legal advisers for the NBA and National Hockey League, respectively. (Skadden is also advising the Arena Football League, which recently canceled its 2009 season, on restructuring efforts.)

At Skadden, Sussman hopes to use his 20 years of experience in sports and media to advise teams, leagues, and companies looking for help in litigation, acquisitions, ownership sales, and industry-specific strategic advice and counseling.

So far Sussman hasn't been asked by the Yankees to help with their stadium finance-related legal troubles, but says he would be delighted to help. For now he'll have to content himself by taking Trost up on an offer to tour the new stadium. If anyone has made a career of mixing business with pleasure, it's David Sussman.


About those stadium issues: Depending on who you ask, the team's plan to finance its new Bronx ballpark is either an egregious waste of taxpayer money or a way for politicians to score cheap political points.

The Am Law Daily covered most of the issues at hand back in September when a congressional committee criticized elements of the stadium's financing plan. (The Yankees received advice from Nixon Peabody public finance partners Bruce Serchuk and Mitchell Rapaport.)

But when the team sought an additional $259 million in tax-exempt bonds and $111 million in taxable bonds for their $1.5 billion stadium, state pols decided to take a few cuts of their own at the project.

After being subpoenaed by Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, Akin Gump senior counsel Randy Levine, who has served as president of the Yankees since 2000, spent Wednesday defending the deal and claiming that it would be good for the city.

A spokesman for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who supports the stadium finance plan, called the hearings "political theater."


While we're just counting down the days until pitchers and catchers report for spring training, the only place Roger Clemens may be reporting soon is a grand jury room. reported earlier this week that a federal grand jury was convened in Washington, D.C., to determine whether The Rocket perjured himself when denying his use of performance-enhancing drugs in congressional testimony last year.

Vermont Law School professor Michael McCann, a frequent contributor to the Sports Law Blog, has an excellent column on Sports Illustrated's Web site on why the former flamethrower should have reason for concern.

While Clemens tapped Covington white-collar defense and investigations practice cochair Lanny Breuer to represent him before Congress, Breuer appears destined to join fellow Covington colleague Eric Holder, Jr., in President-elect Obama's Justice Department.

Should Breuer be nominated and confirmed, writes McCann, he'll almost certainly have to recuse himself from any Clemens-related matters, leaving The Rocket to the devices of far less-sympathetic prosecutors should a grand jury indict him.

In an ominous sign for Clemens, convicted steroids dealer and George Mitchell Report snitch Kirk Radomski was seen outside a federal court house in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, where he reportedly spent over two hours testifying before a grand jury. Clemens's former trainer, Brian McNamee, also reportedly spent Friday meeting with federal prosecutors.

At least Clemens's Houston-based lawyer, helmet-haired Rusty Hardin of Rusty Hardin & Associates, will be busy.


After spending roughly $4 million in legal fees, the City of Anaheim agreed to drop its civil suit against its baseball team--the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim--seeking to have the "L.A." dropped from its name.

The city lost a 2006 trial in Orange County Superior Court by a 9-3 jury vote and had hoped that it would succeed on appeal. But in a decision rendered shortly before Christmas by California's Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division Three in Santa Ana, a three-judge panel found in favor of the team.

Citing renewed cooperation between Anaheim and the Angels since the team was awarded the 2010 All-Star Game, Mayor Curt Pringle announced at the end of a city council meeting earlier this week that the city would end its legal fight.

Part of the reason is the cost. The city had capped appellate spending by its outside lawyers from Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton and Rutan & Tucker at $150,000. (Former Anaheim City Attorney Jack White, who retired last month, was also part of the case.)

An Angels spokesman told reporters that the team had spent nearly $7.5 million on its lawyers from Buchalter Nemer, Powell Goldstein (now part of Bryan Cave), and Southern California's Theodora Oringher Miller & Richman during the four-year legal battle.

Perhaps they should have saved some of that money for Mark Teixeira.

(Ed. Note: Now if only the Yankees could figure out the Angels.)

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