The Work

July 15, 2011 6:50 PM

The Score: A Big Week for Wilmer in the Sports Law Department

Posted by Brian Baxter

Dewey Bozella, a pro bono client that Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr helped free from prison in 2009 after 26 years behind bars, received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYs this week.

In winning the Ashe award--a hallmark of the annual awards show staged by ubiquitous sports network ESPN--Bozella joined an elite group that includes such individuals as Muhammad Ali and Nelson Mandela Before presenting Bozella with the award, actor Matthew McConaughey narrated a video segment (see below) detailing Bozella's story.

The Am Law Daily wrote two years ago about Wilmer's instrumental role in winning the release of Bozella, who was wrongfully convicted in 1977 of murdering a 92-year-old woman in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Wilmer senior associates Ross Firsenbaum and Shauna Friedman took the lead in fighting to secure Bozella's freedom.

Wilmer litigation vice-chair Peter Macdonald spoke to ESPN for its piece about Bozella, noting how much work the firm's lawyers had to do to reconstruct a case that was more than two decades old. Bozella, a onetime amateur boxer, received the ESPY Award, in part, because of his involvement in a prison boxing program. Macdonald, Firsenbaum, and Friedman all attended the awards ceremony with Bozella.

Mainstream recognition of Wilmer's pro bono victory on behalf of Bozella wasn't the only sports law-related development for the firm this week. The Am Law Daily reported on Wilmer's withdrawal from representing Duke University and Duke University Health Systems in lawsuits linked to a 2006 case in which members of the university's lacrosse team faced rape allegations.

On another front, Wilmer brought former partner David Donovan back to the firm from the National Football League's Washington Redskins, where he had spent the last six years as the team's chief operating officer and general counsel for the team. Sibling publication The National Law Journal reports that Donovan cited "personal reasons" for leaving the Redskins to rejoin Wilmer.

Donovan has been advising the team in a controversial defamation suit filed against The Washington City Paper, an alternative weekly newspaper that published this unflattering story about Redskins owner Daniel Snyder.

From NBA 3's to Legal Degrees

The Philadelphia 76ers became the latest National Basketball Association franchise to be sold this week when an investor group led by private equity bigwigs Joshua Harris and David Blitzer purchased the team for a reported $280 million.

One member of that ownership group, sports agent and Greenberg Traurig alum Jason Levien, is reportedly in line to become the next general manager for the 76ers. Levien previously served as general counsel and assistant general manager of the Sacramento Kings before stepping down from that role last July.

Levien's dual legal and basketball operations roles reminded us about a Sports Agent Blog post late last month that examined the bevy of J.D.'s now holding down GM posts.

Last summer the Phoenix Suns hired former Williams & Connolly partner and sports agent Lon Babby to become their new president of basketball operations. Other NBA GMs holding law degrees include David Kahn of the Minnesota Timberwolves, David Morway of the Indiana Pacers, and Richard Cho of the Charlotte Bobcats. (Click here for more on how three of them used their legal expertise to get their current positions.)

Of course, none of these front office executives will be able to show off their basketball IQs until the league resolves its current collective bargaining situation. This week union chief G. William "Billy" Hunter, a former federal prosecutor, sent a memo to players supporting them in their efforts to play overseas if a new labor deal can't be reached.

Around the Horn

-- The National Football League continues to grind along in its own labor lockout. Players and management both cited progress when talks recessed late Friday. The optimistic talk came after the two sides got back together and made some headway on the imposition of a rookie wage scale in the wake of a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit that caused some consternation in a Proskauer Rose conference room earlier in the week.

-- If you somehow missed jury selection, social media witness bashing, and opening statements in the federal perjury trial of former baseball star Roger Clemens, don't worry. With as much hype and excitement as the case began, it was over by Thursday--for now, anyway--when U.S. district court judge Reggie Walton declared a mistrial. Walton shut down the proceedings down after prosecutors presented evidence that had previously been deemed inadmissible, according to The NLJ.

-- If you've been enjoying ESPN's new sportswriting venture as much as we have the past few weeks, you might have come across a column or two by Daniel McLaughlin. A litigation counsel with Sidley Austin in New York, McLaughlin penned two pieces for the site this week on the economics of the designated hitter rule in MLB and a breakdown of the Clemens mistrial. McLaughlin, who blogs about America's pastime at Baseball Crank and politics at Red State, was a classmate at Holy Cross with Grantland editor-in-chief Bill Simmons.

-- In April the agent for New York Yankees star Derek Jeter--he of the 3,000th hit-making tax obligations--announced that he was leaving industry giant CAA to join Excel Sports Management. Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton corporate associate Gabriel Matus, who advised Excel on that matter, this week reprised his role representing Excel as it lured heavyweight Mark Steinberg away from rival IMG. Steinberg, who headed IMG's global golf business and counts Tiger Woods as a client, will become a partner at Excel, which is expanding its sports offerings. Sheppard Mullin tax partner D. Matthew Richardson also advised Excel on Steinberg's hire.

-- The bankruptcy case involving Major League Baseball's Los Angeles Dodgers continued to unfold this week, as it was announced that the league's players association and a San Francisco Giants fan critically injured after the Dodgers' home opener would be represented on an official committee of unsecured creditors. Lawyers for the injured fan from L.A.'s Girardi Keese claim that their client, Bryan Stow, is owed up to $30 million by the Dodgers--more than the $21 million the team currently owes to former star Manny Ramirez. Dodgers owner Frank McCourt is also seeking to have a bankruptcy judge reduce the $600,000 he pays his ex-wife in monthly spousal support.

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