NEW ORLEANS -- With an out-of-court settlement not very likely, it is back to federal court for suspended Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma and the NFL.
Attorneys for both sides are due in Judge Ginger Berrigan’s courtroom Friday morning for what will likely be another lengthy hearing on Vilma’s request for a temporary restraining order.
If granted, it would lift the suspension and allow the defensive captain to go back to work and join his teammates in training camp at Saints facility in suburban New Orleans while his lawsuit against the league and Commissioner Roger Goodell proceeds through the legal system.
Goodell ordered Vilma to sit out the season for his role in an alleged pay to injury bounty program.
Two weeks ago, Vilma, his interim head coach Joe Vitt and a handful of current and former Saints players testified there was no bounty system and that Goodell got his facts wrong.
"Everything I've worked for has been basically thrown down the toilet," Vilma said when asked about the harm his bounty suspension has done to both his pro career and charitable work that includes building schools in Haiti. "It hurts. It's tough to swallow because it's not who I am."
Vitt told the judge, “At no time did any of our players cross the white line with the intent to hurt, maim or injure to end a player’s career.”
Friday, attorneys will attempt to clear up additional questions the judge had at the end of the July 26 hearing.
Berrigan expressed concerns about Goodell’s ability to be the judge, jury and court of appeals for the penalties.
At the July hearing, Berrigan said, “The issue here is whether the commissioner complied with the requirements of the collective bargaining agreement in imposing the sanctions…I have a serious question as to whether he did.”
“She made it very clear that she thought that he should be punished, if he did anything at all, for on-the-field activity,” said former federal prosecutor and Eyewitness News legal analyst Chick Foret. “In listening to her from the bench, she made it clear to everyone in the courtroom, her quote was that 'it bordered on the ridiculous' to say that Jonathan Vilma was being punished for off-the-field activity.
Foret said according to the CBA, punishment for on-the-field activity such as unnecessary roughness is under the jurisdiction of another arbitrator, not Roger Goodell.
NFL attorneys did not present any testimony, but argued that Vilma has not exhausted all of his appeals under the CBA and that federal courts may not have the jurisdiction to overturn a process that was collectively bargained by the players and the league.
“We're looking at the collective bargaining agreement, which was clearly drafted to the benefit of the NFL,” said Foret. “We're looking at the arbitration law which appears to benefit the NFL.”
The league wants the judge to uphold Vilma’s suspension and toss out his defamation suit against Goodell.
It is not clear if Berrigan will rule from the bench, but she is expected to hand down her ruling within the next two weeks.
“Mr. Vilma is certainly asking for an injunction. I don't think Judge Berrigan is going to issue an injunction, but she may well order a remand.” said Foret. “She may order another hearing for Jonathan Vilma and the other players and allow them to present evidence in front of the commissioner or someone else.”
Three other players, including Saints defensive end Will Smith and former Saints defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove and linebacker Scott Fujita, could also see their suspensions reduced or eliminated depending on how Berrigan rules.
Vilma may attend the hearing as a spectator, but only the attorneys are expected to speak.