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March 31, 2011 11:14 PM

The Score: A Bowl, a Bonds, and a Basketball Great's Loss in Court

Posted by Brian Baxter

The Fiesta Bowl, the long-running U.S. college football game sponsored by Frito-Lay's Tostitos brand, fired CEO John Junker on Wednesday after an internal investigation found that he hatched "an apparent scheme" to reimburse employees for political contributions and "an apparent conspiracy" to cover up his conduct, according to The Associated Press.

Junker had an annual salary of $600,000 and has been on paid administrative leave since early February, The AP reports, after the Fiesta Bowl's board of directors said he twice failed to heed written directives to cooperate with the probe into allegedly improper political campaign donations and expense reimbursements to bowl employees.

In a 276-page report detailing the inquiry, investigators said they had uncovered the "apparent scheme" to pay back at least $46,539 in workers' political donations. The reimbursements, the AP reports, appear to violate state campaign finance laws as well as the charter that gives the bowl its tax-exempt, nonprofit status. The Arizona's attorney general's office is conducting its own investigation into the matter.

The probe was led by retired Arizona Supreme Court Justice Ruth McGregor, who stepped down from the bench in March 2009. McGregor is part of a special committee that also includes two members of the organization's board of directors. The three-member panel received legal counsel from a team of lawyers from Minneapolis-based Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi.

Robins Kaplan litigation partners Christopher Madel, Sara Poulos, and Bruce Manning took the lead advising the special committee on the internal inquiry. Included in the firm's report is a motion for cause to terminate Junker. Madel was out of the office and unavailable for comment on Thursday.

The Arizona Republic reports Madel's team interviewed 52 individuals with ties to the Fiesta Bowl and reviewed roughly 10,000 documents, consisting of e-mails, electronic payroll files, and financial records.

Junker's dismissal could mean that the Fiesta Bowl, one of five Bowl Championship Series games, could be in danger of losing its status as a destination for college football teams playing in the postseason, according to various press reports.

Stephen Dichter, a name partner at Las Vegas firm Christian, Kravitz, Dichter & Johnson, represents Junker. In an interview with Bloomberg, Dichter said his client had not had a chance to review the report before it was made public, but that two sections detailing interviews with Junker "provide the best and most accurate rendition of [his] responses to the subject matters."

As previously noted by The Am Law Daily, the Fiesta Bowl has retained former federal prosecutor and Bingham McCutchen litigation partner Nathan Hochman in Santa Monica to represent it in the ongoing inquiry.

The Arizona Republic first reported in December 2009 about allegedly improper political contributions being made by Fiesta Bowl employees who were then reimbursed. Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods conducted an independent investigation that found no evidence of wrongdoing. That probe was viewed skeptically by some. 

BARRY BONDS ON TRIAL

Thursday was Opening Day for Major League Baseball's 2011 season. It comes in the midst of the federal perjury trial of former San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds, which opened in a courthouse in San Francisco on March 21.

The case has garnered extensive coverage of among other things, testimony by ex-teammates, former mistresses, and athletic trainers. The Recorder, our sibling publication on the West Coast, has been keeping tabs on the legal strategies by both prosecutors and defense lawyers in the case.

One lawyer taking center stage at the Bonds trial is veteran criminal defense lawyer Allen Ruby, a former wrestler who joined Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom last year.

But as the Recorder notes, it's Ruby's cocounsel, Cristina Arguedas of Berkeley's Arguedas, Cassman & Headley, who could emerge as the legal star on the defense side at trial. Arguedas is known for her skills on cross-examination, which were on display during her questioning of Bonds's ex-lover, Kristin Bell. Click here for the latest from The Recorder's Ginny LaRoe on the Bonds case.

AROUND THE HORN

-- The National Football League's labor lockout continues, with the league's lawyers from Boies, Schiller & Flexner, King & Spalding, and Covington & Burling filing their response last week to an antitrust suit filed by players after they decertified from the union earlier this month.

A court hearing on the matter is scheduled for April 6 before U.S. district court judge Susan Nelson in Minneapolis, dubbed a "master mediator" by The Washington Post in a recent profile.

As the labor dispute gets increasingly nastyboth players and owners have blamed the lawyers involved for the stalemate, and one not-totally-neutral observer agrees. Michael Huyghue, commissioner of fledgling United Football League, suggested in for The Huffington Post that both sides should toss their lawyers aside. (Huyghue, naturally, is a lawyer.)

--  NBA Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor and former Los Angeles Clippers general manager lost his wrongful termination suit against team owner Donald Sterling and president Andy Roeser this week, the Los Angeles Times reports.

An L.A. County Superior Court jury of seven men and five women deliberated for less than four hours before unanimously rejecting Baylor's claim that he was subjected to harassment and age discrimination when he was fired in 2008 after 22 years with the franchise.

Manatt, Phelps & Phillips partner Robert Platt, who once served as general counsel for the Clippers, released this statement to The Am Law Daily claiming that "the jury's verdict was inevitable." The firm has longstanding ties to the team.

-- ESPN has sued Conference USA in federal court in New York, accusing the college sports league of violating a television contract by signing a new deal with Fox, according to this report from The AP.

ESPN is represented by Cravath, Swaine & Moore presiding partner Evan Chesler and partner Peter Barbur. Click here for a copy of the contract and complaint, which seeks $21 million in damages and attorneys' fees from Conference USA.

-- Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan has found itself in the middle of two sports-related suits in the past week. In one, the litigation firm is suing former client Upper Deck, which makes trading cards, for $200,000 in unpaid legal fees, according to The Am Law Litigation Daily. (Upper Deck has been ensnared in various IP and antitrust disputes in recent years, Quinn Emanuel has handled several of the company's matters.)

In the second case, the firm represents GSP Finance--a lender to embattled sports team owner Tom Hicks--in a suit by GSP against KPMG accusing the account giant of failing to properly audit the debt-addled businessman, The Lit Daily reports.

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