The Work

February 18, 2011 7:15 PM

The Score: Bargaining Ball Bouncing Both Ways for Jeff Kessler

Posted by Brian Baxter

 For Jeffrey Kessler, the only difference between the gridiron and the hardcourt are the suits sitting across from him at the negotiating table. As stalwart union counsel to NFL and NBA players, the Dewey & LeBoeuf global litigation chair has been jetting across the country to attend collective bargaining negotiations for both.

The NFL labor talks got ugly earlier this week when the league filed an unfair labor practices charge against the union with the National Labor Relations Board. By midweek though, the two sides had softened their rhetoric and agreed to enter mediation before George Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and a former partner at Washington, D.C., boutique Bredhoff & Kaiser.

Both sides sat down at FMCS offices in Washington on Friday in hopes of breaking a bargaining impasse ahead of the fast-approaching March 4 expiration date for the current labor contract. Union and league officials have reportedly committed to seven consecutive days of negotiations.

Representing the NFL are its general counsel Jeffrey Pash, a former Covington & Burling partner, and chief labor negotiator L. Robert Batterman of Proskauer Rose. Leading the union's negotiating team: executive director DeMaurice Smith, a former Patton Boggs and Latham & Watkins partner, and general counsel Richard Berthelsen.

Missing from the NFL bargaining table on Friday was Kessler, who was in Los Angeles kicking off the NBA's All-Star Weekend by working with the league's players union on its first substantive session with NBA executives in some time.

The NBA's collective bargaining agreement it set to expire on June 30 after the current season ends. League and union officials haven't made any progress on a new pact since meeting in Dallas for last year's All-Star Game.

We caught up with Kessler between meetings via e-mail on Friday. He told us that he intended to participate in NBA negotiations all day Friday in L.A. before catching a red eye back to Washington for the continuation of NFL talks on Saturday.

In the NBA negotiations, Kessler faces a familiar team across the bargaining table. Handling labor talks for the NBA are Proskauer sports law group cohead Howard Ganz, a former cochair of the firm's labor and employment group, and former Covington lawyer and league general counsel Richard Buchanan.

The two dovetail nicely with the Proskauer/Covington team of Batterman and Pash squaring off against Kessler and his comrades in the NFL negotiations. Working with Kessler on both the NFL and NBA matters is fellow Dewey partner David Feher, cochair of the firm's sports litigation practice group. On the NFL talks, James Quinn, cochair of the litigation practice at Weil, Gotshal & Manges, also represents the union. Kessler served as Quinn's protégé at Weil before leaving for Dewey predecessor firm Dewey Ballantine in 2003.

College, Ain't Nothing Like It

Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker was placed on administrative leave February 14 after officials announced they had launched an investigation into allegations that Junker made improper political campaign contributions and expense reimbursements to bowl employees, according to The Associated Press.

Retired Arizona Supreme Court Justice Ruth McGregor, who stepped down from the bench in March 2009, is leading the probe, along with Jim Bruner and Steve Whiteman, members of the Fiesta Bowl's board of directors. (Matt Winter, a founder of the Winter Law Group in Phoenix, also sits on the bowl's board.)

The AP reports that the Fiesta Bowl has separately retained former federal prosecutor and current Bingham McCutchen litigation partner Nathan Hochman, who specializes in investigations by state and federal authorities, in connection with the matter. The Fiesta Bowl, which is played each year Glendale, Ariz., is also being investigated by the state's attorney general's office.

Across the country, Bowl Championship Series national champion Auburn is seeing the bill come due for the legal odyssey of its Heisman Trophy–winning quarterback, Cam Newton. The Birmingham News reports that the school was presented with a $170,000 bill for legal fees by Alabama firm Lightfoot, Franklin & White.

The newspaper notes that since being hired by Auburn in mid-October, Lightfoot's legal bills are roughly equivalent to what other schools like Connecticut, Indiana, and Florida State have paid Bond, Schoeneck & King, Ice Miller, and GrayRobinson, respectively, for NCAA-related probes related into compliance issues and other possible infractions.

Sports Scandal? Call Kendall Brill

Last September, David Beckham tapped Proskauer Rose's Bert Deixler for a libel suit against In Touch Weekly after the tabloid ran a story in which a woman claimed to have had an affair with the married soccer star in 2007. Beckham claimed he was faithful to his wife, Victoria (a.k.a. Posh Spice), but a court isn't buying it.

Reuters reports that a federal judge tossed the suit against In Touch--represented by Davis Wright Tremaine--on February 14. Deixler, who left Proskauer for L.A. boutique Kendall Brill & Klieger in January, and Beckham's other attorneys have vowed to appeal.

Kendall Brill was formed in May 2009 by a trio of litigators who left Irell & Manella to open their own shop. The firm thrived in subsequent months, and recently has appeared in headlines again, albeit for different reasons. According to, name partner Richard Kendall apparently represents a young woman who reportedly had a brief dalliance with New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez.

Around the Horn

-- Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has been a litigation launching machine lately, slapping his onetime lawyers at Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft and the Washington City Paper with suits this month alone. Now the  D.C. paper is hitting back, according to Corporate Counsel. The Am Law Daily's sibling publication reports that City Paper owner Atalya Capital has tapped prominent First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams of Cahill Gordon & Reindel and Seth Berlin of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz to handle the Snyder suit.

-- A Manhattan woman has sued former basketball star Julius Erving, a.k.a. Dr. J, for allegedly cheating her out of $420,000 in a deal with disgraced money manager Kenneth Starr. The plaintiff in the suit, Mary Gilbert, has lined up Boies, Schiller & Flexner to represent her, according to Courthouse News. Dr. J, who has had financial problems in recent years, has turned to solo practitioner Dorna Taylor in Atlanta.

-- With spring training just around the corner, it's worth noting that former Chicago White Sox senior director of player personnel Dave Wilder entered a guilty plea on February 11 to charges that he defrauded young Latin American prospects out of a portion of their signing bonuses. We wrote about Katten Muchin Rosenman's role uncovering the kickback scheme back in December.

-- The Am Law Daily reported last August on the firms with ties to the potential sale of the NBA's Detroit Pistons. The team now seems poised to be sold to billionaire Tom Gores, a Michigan native and founder of Beverly Hills-based private equity firm Platinum Equity now in exclusive negotiations to purchase the franchise. Another team that could see itself sold soon is the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers, who made news in January when their owners sued their former lawyers at King & Spalding for malpractice.

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