February 2, 2012 7:17 PM
Super Bowl Special: A Look at the Legal Fees Racked Up by NFL Players Ahead of the Lockout
Posted by Brian Baxter
As the New York Giants and New England Patriots prepare to take the field on Sunday for Super Bowl XLVI, the four-and-a half month labor lockout and legal battle that nearly scuttled the current National Football League season seems like a distant memory.
But with players union leaders taking heat in some quarters, The Am Law Daily decided to warm up for Sunday's action by reviewing what the union spent on its lawyers and lobbyists from Dewey & LeBoeuf, Latham & Watkins, Patton Boggs, and Weil, Gotshal & Manges in the run-up to the contentious negotiations that ultimately produced a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in July.
Like all labor unions, the NFLPA—which is responsible for CBA negotiations, maintaining retirement and insurance benefits for current and former players, and handling marketing and licensing agreements through its NFL Players subsidiary—must file annual LM-2 forms with the U.S. Department of Labor.
The union's most recent filing detailing its finances is for the period between March 1, 2010, and February 28, 2011. Included in those disclosures are payments made to outside accounting, financial, law, and lobbying firms, as well as to other external vendors.
The total value of the NFLPA's assets between March 2010 and February 2011 was nearly $313.6 million, according to its LM-2 filing. About $63.2 million was spent on representational activities, including outside legal work, while another $1.7 million went to political activities and lobbying.
By far, CBA matters consumed the bulk of the NFLPA's outside legal and lobbying expenditures in the time period before the union decertified and the league lockout out players on March 12, 2011. The breakdown of the top billers for all legal and labor–related matters, listed in descending order, is as follows:
Latham & Watkins – CBA and public policy matters – $3.1 million
Dewey & LeBoeuf – CBA matters/legal services – $2.9 million
Patton Boggs – CBA and public policy matters – $948,983
PricewaterhouseCoopers – CBA matters – $455,750
The Claro Group – CBA matters/consultants – $419,314
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher – antitrust/CBA matters – $294,843
Weil, Gotshal & Manges – CBA matters – $274,075
Fulbright & Jaworski – professional services – $258,663
Joseph Yablonski – agent arbitration/member grievance/professional services – $221,182
Groom Law Group – CBA matters/union administration/professional services – $176,272
Willig, Williams & Davidson – CBA matters – $145,299
Navigant Consulting – CBA matters/professional services – $139,940
Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner – professional services – $125,993
Thomas Donaldson – CBA matters/expert witness – $90,165
Sutton Associates – investigative services and research – $89,380
Law Office of Marvin B. Peterson – professional services – $57,923
Garvey McNeil & Associates – CBA advice/negotiations – $55,734
Greene Espel – CBA matters – $53,154
Peter Kendall Consulting – CBA matters – $52,094
Bregman, Berbert, Schwartz & Gilday – professional services – $50,968
Wright & Close – professional services – $45,510
Fraser Trebilcock Davis & Dunlap – consulting and professional services – $30,093
O'Melveny & Myers – professional services – $25,000
Bien & Summers – professional services – $25,000
Hemenway & Barnes – professional services – $24,515
Frank A. Bruno Law Firm – member grievance – $19,854
Lawrence F. Labanowski & Associates – AFLPA CBA matters – $16,916
Lindquist & Vennum – professional services – $16,138
Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton – professional services – $14,283
Manley Burke – member grievance – $14,134
Schertler & Onorato – professional services – $6,525
Gregory Ablavsky – CBA matters – $5,673
Tonkon Torp – CBA matters – $5,000
One interesting conclusion that can immediately be drawn by reviewing the NFLPA's financial statements is that since DeMaurice Smith—a former Latham and Patton Boggs partner—became the union's executive director three years ago, those firms have encroached on the outside legal turf traditionally owned by Dewey and Weil.
The NFLPA's LM-2 filing also shows that it returned a $20,000 retainer to Atlanta's Bondurant Mixson & Elmore. One other nugget contained in the document: The union's longtime outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler, chair of Dewey's global litigation department and a seasoned sports litigator steeped in high-profile labor disputes, bought tickets to last year's Super Bowl for $7,200.
The salaries and bonuses paid to the NFLPA's own employees are also spelled out in the union's LM-2 filing. Smith himself received more than $1.5 million in compensation for the union's 2010 fiscal year. (When the lockout began in March, Smith agreed to slash his pay to $1 until the impasse was resolved. Once an agreement was reached, Smith's back pay was reportedly restored, and in December the union awarded him a $1 million bonus.)
A trio of Smith's former colleagues from Patton Boggs that left the firm to join him at the NFLPA also appear on the union's in-house legal payroll. Longtime Patton Boggs partner and chief operating officer Ira Fishman received $606,300 in his new role as managing director of the NFLPA. Payments to associate general counsel Heather McPhee and vice president of business and legal affairs Ahmad Nassar, both of whom are former Patton Boggs associates, totaled $310,020 and $287,324, respectively. Tuaranna "Teri" Patterson, a former Latham associate now serving as deputy managing director and special counsel to Smith, was paid $178,554.
Richard Berthelsen, the union's longtime general counsel, received $790,855. Payments to other in-house attorneys include associate general counsel Thomas DePaso ($463,943), senior staff counsel Tim English ($356,223), staff counsel Arthur McAfee III ($248,109), former staff counsel Joseph Nahra ($130,422), staff counsel Todd Flanagan ($115,836), public policy counsel Joe Briggs ($88,866), and staff counsel Sean Sansiveri ($12,000).
A spokesman for the NFLPA also did not respond to a request for comment from The Am Law Daily for this story.
The union's LM-2 filing also details the amounts paid to outside arbitrators employed by the NFLPA and league under the CBA to adjudicate disputes between players and their teams.
Arbitrators receiving union payments include Stephen Burbank ($115,694), Roger Kaplan ($96,173), Calvin Sharpe ($32,879), Shyam Das ($25,027), Michael Beck ($20,651), David Grissom ($17,462), Richard Kasher ($16,465), John Sands ($16,138), James Conway ($12,085), Jack Clarke ($7,479), and Edwin Benn ($6,802).
Some other expenses NFL fans might take note of are $551,404 in marketing and royalty fees to Hattiesburg, Mississippi–based Favre Enterprises, a company controlled by future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre, as well as $860,668 for star running back Adrian Peterson's All Day Inc. The union's financial ledger also shows $6.9 million in income through a settlement with the league a year ago in a hard-fought dispute over television contract cash.
And while the legal bills listed in the NFLPA's next LM-2 filing—which will cover the lockout-and-litigation preseason scrum—are likely to be considerably higher, players can take solace in that the league has its own legal costs to bear.
Team owners incurred millions of their own litigation and labor costs for outside lawyers during the lockout, and this week a federal judicial panel on multidistrict litigation consolidated in Philadelphia a series of concussion suits brought by current and former players, according to sibling publication The Legal Intelligencer. Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett became the latest ex-player to sue the league on Thursday.
As for Smith, The Am Law Daily last spoke with him in 2009, just after he was elected to head the Washington, D.C.–based NFLPA. This week, like everyone else in the NFL universe, he is in Indianapolis for this year's Super Bowl festivities, where he praised the league's newfound labor peace.
But not everyone is happy with Smith, whose contract is up for renewal in March. In an 11-page letter to a group of his fellow sports agents, Wm. David Cornwell, Sr., of Atlanta’s DNK Cornwell, criticized Smith's leadership style and took issue with some elements of the new labor deal.
Cornwell is hardly unbiased in his assessment of Smith. When we spoke with him three years ago, the former league in-house lawyer and attorney for many NFL players acknowledged that it was tough to lose out to Smith three years ago in the voting to replace the late Gene Upshaw as head of the NFLPA.
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