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December 3, 2010 6:54 PM

Report: Jones Day Advising NBA's Cavs in LeBron James Tampering Probe

Posted by Brian Baxter

UPDATES: 12/5/10, 4:55 p.m. Information on the NBA's plan to take control of the New Orleans Hornets has been added to the 17th paragraph of this post. 12/6/10, 10:10 a.m. Information on SNR Denton, which advised Qatar on its successful bid for the 2022 World Cup, has been added to the 14th paragraph of this post.

LeBron James returned to Cleveland on Thursday night for the first time since taking his talents to South Beach this summer and responded to the boos, catcalls, and other insults by beating his former team 118-90.

But James's victory could be short-lived, given a Yahoo Sports report earlier this week that Cleveland Cavaliers owner Daniel Gilbert--who holds a law degree from Wayne State University, not to mention a mammoth grudge against his team's former star--is paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to an unnamed large Midwestern law firm to investigate the circumstances that led King James to join the Miami Heat.

Upon reading the Yahoo story, The Am Law Daily put out feelers to several Am Law 200 firms based in Cleveland, Chicago, and Detroit (Gilbert's hometown) in order to try and suss out the mystery firm's identity. Lawyers for the NBA at Proskauer Rose and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom claimed to be in the dark about who was advising Gilbert, as were NBA Player's Association attorneys at Dewey & LeBoeuf.

Those we spoke to suggested firms with Cleveland roots like Baker & Hostetler, Jones Day, and Squire, Sanders & Dempsey. Those that have represented Gilbert on other matters, such as Detroit-based Hongiman Miller Schwartz and Cohn, were also suggested as possible candidates for the tampering work. (Honigman is handling work related to a casino Gilbert is planning for downtown Cleveland.)

Pursuing those leads yielded little. A Baker & Hostetler litigator told us his firm wasn't involved and Squire Sanders would seem to be conflicted out over its previous representations of James. Honigman and Jones Day weren't talking, but given that the Yahoo report noted that the legal team being assembled by Gilbert includes "several former prosecutors with backgrounds in investigating and constructing cases," we began to pick up a distinct Jones Day vibe.

Then the Cleveland Plain-Dealer broke the news: an anonymous NBA source told the paper that Jones Day was indeed the firm in question. Spokesmen for the Cavs and Jones Day have not responded to requests for comment, nor has Thomas "Tim" Cullen, Jr., the head of the firm's worldwide trial practice. (The firm advised the Cavs on their sale to Gilbert.)

Cavs general counsel Jason Hillman declined to comment. Hillman, who previously worked at Southfield, Mich.-based firm Jaffe Reitt Heuer & Weiss, joined the team as company counsel in 2005 after Gilbert bought the franchise. Heat general counsel Raquel Libman, a former associate at Miami firm Kurzban Kurzban Weinger Tetzeli & Pratt, did not respond to a request for comment.

So what does Gilbert hope to accomplish by tapping a high-priced law firm with James alread settled in South Beach? Yahoo reports that the Cavs owner, a founder of Quicken Loans and Rock Financial, "won't relent until he has a thick binder of findings to drop on the desk of the NBA commissioner," said David Stern, a former Proskauer litigation partner.

That stack of documents, Yahoo reports, would include the details of phone calls, e-mails, and meetings that date back to 2008, when James allegedly first discussed playing on the same team together with his then-Olympics teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. It would then be up to the NBA, no stranger to sorting through the detailed findings of Am Law 100 firms, to reach its own conclusions on the James saga.

LATHAM, U.S. SOCCER OUT IN COLD ON WORLD CUP VOTE

On Thursday, Qatar and Russia won the right to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, respectively, as the executive committee of soccer's world governing body, FIFA, awarded the world's most-watched sporting event to two first-time hosts.

The surprise loser was the U.S., which had hoped the efforts of former president Bill Clinton and actor Morgan Freeman could woo voters away from new locales and bring the tournament back to America for the first time since 1994.

Latham & Watkins served as an official partner of the U.S. bid committee seeking the 2022 World Cup, according to a release by the U.S. Soccer Federation. The firm has had a long relationship with the sport's governing body in the U.S., having done the legal work for the 1994 World Cup. (Former U.S. Soccer president Alan Rothenberg was once a Latham partner; click here for a Sports Illustrated story on the firm's long-standing ties to soccer in the U.S.)

But 2022 was not to be for Team USA. Some U.S. Soccer officials are crying foul, wondering aloud whether the system used to select new sites for the World Cup needs to be revamped. FIFA itself has been plagued by allegations of corruption against senior officials. Adam Silverstein, a partner at New York firm Golenbock Eiseman Assor Bell & Peskoe who sued FIFA on behalf of MasterCard and won a $90 million settlement three years ago, told USA Today that the organization is "accountable to no one."

Latham corporate partner Paul Tosetti, who served as outside counsel to World Cup USA 1994 and was part of a team from the firm working with U.S. Soccer on the latest World Cup bid, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. SNR Denton represented Qatar on its winning bid, according to a story by U.K. legal publication Legal Week.

AROUND THE HORN

-- Proskauer labor partner L. Robert Batterman and former Patton Boggs partner DeMaurice Smith, who heads the NFL players union, are butting heads again in the league's ongoing search for a new collective bargaining agreement. Batterman told The Washington Post last week that he wants a labor deal, not a lockout, which Smith claims is a "near certainty" next season. (Smith's counterpart at the NBA feels the same way.) That has the league scoffing at the union's position and saber-rattling lockout talk. Can't we all just get along?

-- Zuckerman Spaeder partner Cyril Smith, who represented former Pittsburgh Steeler Hall of Famer Mike Webster in a civil suit against the NFL's pension plan, is doing the same for former NFL running back Eric Shelton. Smith sued the pension plan this week in U.S. district court in Baltimore, claiming that Shelton should have received the highest level of disability benefits as a result of a helmet-to-helmet hit that ended his career. Douglas Ell, an attorney for the pension fund at the Groom Law Group in Washington, D.C., claims that Shelton is being justly compensated.

-- The collapse of the proposed sale of the NBA's New Orleans Hornets will result in the league taking control of the franchise, according to ESPN.com. The Am Law Daily reported in May on the two New Orleans-based firms advising on the deal--Liskow & Lewis and Phelps Dunbar--that has now apparently fallen through. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that Jac Sperling, president of the NHL's Minnesota Wild and a former partner at Hogan & Hartson in Denver, will oversee the NBA's sale of the franchise.

-- An ownership battle involving the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, the Triple A affiliate of the Bronx Bombers, has led to Reed Smith being signed to a secret contract by Luzerne County commissioners, according to The Citizens Voice. Luzerne, which co-owns the team with neighboring Lackawanna County, is seeking public input on a pending sale of the franchise. Luzerne claims the SWB Yankees are worth $25 million, not the current $14.6 million sales price. Prior to Reed Smith, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney and Scranton firm Meyers, Brier & Kelly were also paid with Luzerne public funds, according to The Citizens Voice.

-- Marquette University Law School is reaching into the bullpen for the newest member of its faculty. The National Law Journal, a sibling publication, recently reported that MLB commissioner Bud Selig has been named an adjunct professor at the school. Selig, who is not a lawyer, had been lecturing at Marquette since 2009. The Milwaukee native has longtime ties to the school--his daughter, Wendy Selig-Preib, graduated from the law school in 1988.

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