Jonathan Vilma’s request for an expedited hearing asking for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction was granted by U.S. District Judge Helen G. Berrigan, albeit not as quickly as he was hoping.
Berrigan ordered the hearing in the Eastern District of Louisiana to be held July 26, a week earlier than the originally scheduled Aug. 1 date. July 26 is the third day of training camp for the Saints and first day of practice for the 2012 season. Vilma originally had requested the hearing be moved to Thursday.
The hearing would come three days after a settlement conference, which is scheduled before a Magistrate Judge and could resolve the two sides’ issues, though unlikely.
The order comes on a day when the NFL filed a memorandum of opposition to Vilma’s request to expedite the hearing, which the linebacker’s lawyer filed on Monday.
On Tuesday, acting Saints head coach Joe Vitt and team trainer Scottie Patton defended Jonathan Vilma, claiming the defensive leader needs to be at the Saints facility, somewhere his suspension by the NFL keeps him from being, to continue rehabilitating from major knee surgery he underwent this offseason.
The NFL denied that, saying in its opposition that Vilma was not barred from being seen by the Saints medical staff off premises.
“Mr. Vilma is incorrect about the ability of the Saints medical staff to interact with him during his suspension,” the NFL’s opposition says. “While Mr. Vilma may not attend the Club facility, he can rehabilitate and condition at a private facility and Saints trainers and physicians can monitor and help guide his rehabilitation there.”
Vitt’s affidavit goes further, however, saying Vilma’s suspension and his being barred from the Saints’ facility “jeopardizes the entire Saints football team and our 2012-2013 season.”
In his affidavit, Vitt says he can’t wait to be “able to provide substantive and truthful testimony and information about the allegations made by Mr. (Roger) Goodell regarding the so-called but non-existent Bounty Program, and to refute that the Saints ever had a Bounty Program…”
Meanwhile, hours after the NFL’s memorandum was filed, Patton, the Saints head trainer, filed an affidavit in support of Vilma saying that the suspension keeps his staff from “assisting Mr. Vilma in helping him to recover from a serious knee injury.”
“One of my major concerns, from knowing and working with Mr. Vilma for so many years, is that Mr. Vilma will push himself too hard if I am not around to check his progress and keep him under control,” Patton said in the affidavit.
Patton went on to say that, “Mr. Vilma will be at a greater risk of re-injury and stymied recovery if we cannot closely supervise him.”
Vilma filed a motion on Monday for the court to expedite his TRO/preliminary injunction hearing to Thursday. His motion argued that he would need to know the court’s ruling with training camp beginning July 24.
His filing also said that he needed access to the Saints training facility and medical staff so he could rehabilitate from offseason knee surgery, something the league’s suspension would keep him from being able to do.
The NFL’s opposition argues that Vilma, who filed for the temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction on July 5, should have asked for an expedited process shortly after.
Vilma, according to the NFL, still has yet to “make every reasonable effort to settle (the) dispute either by negotiation or with the aid of any available … voluntary arbitration.”
Tuesday’s filing by the NFL says Vilma hasn’t taken full advantage of the complete appeals process bargained for in the CBA that was agreed to in the summer of 2011.
“Mr. Vilma’s failure to make every reasonable effort to exhaust the available dispute-resolution mechanisms withdraws from this Court jurisdiction to grant—expeditiously or otherwise—the requested injunctive relief,” the NFL’s opposition says.
Vitt defended Vilma’s character, saying, “Mr. Vilma, to be clear, is one of the finest, fairest and most decent people I have ever known, both in and out of football and has been an ambassador for our game.”
Missing that, Vitt argued, would be a disaster for the team as a whole, especially if Vilma’s suspension ends up being thrown out.
“Missing training camp would seriously compromise Mr. Vilma’s ability to help the team,” Vitt said. “In the even the suspension ultimately is nullified, Mr. Vilma might never be able to make a full contribution to the team if he misses training camp.”