The Vikings offense, in search of a good quarterback, should consider this aggressive fellow named Jeffrey Kessler. In St. Paul today, that Kessler dude in the gray flannel suit really moved the ball.
The legal ball, that is.
And, in the process, kept Pat Williams and Kevin Williams on the Vikings playing field.
Kessler, a New York lawyer who has regularly represented NFL Players Association interests here in the Twin Cities, led the Williams Wall to a huge federal court victory today.
Already the recipients of a Hennepin County District Court order barring the NFL from enforcing a suspension on them, the Williamses won a preliminary injunction from U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson today.
It looks as if that injunction will have staying power. It’s likely to be in force for a number of weeks, if not the rest of the season.
“This decision shows once again, like all other organizations in the United States, the NFL is subject to the rule of law and, in this case, they didn’t follow it,” said Kessler. “The players shouldn’t be punished for it.”
The Williamses and three members of the New Orleans Saints were suspended earlier this week for violation of the NFL’s drug policy. But Kessler made two key arguments for all five players: that the arbitrator who ruled on all five players’ drug violations had a conflict of interest, and that the league didn’t reveal adequately to players that the banned substance — Bumetanide — was in a supplement they each took.
Plus, Kessler argued, the players tested positive last summer but weren’t suspended until earlier this week. By allowing them to continue to play, he said, the league would suffer no irreparable harm.
Dan Nash, a lawyer for the NFL, said the players were simply trying to circumvent the bounds of the collective bargaining agreement. They lost their hearing at the league level “and they don’t like it,” Nash said. “They’re trying to manipulate their suspensions.”
But during the hearing, Magnuson signaled he’d side with the players.
When told that the players weren’t notified that they’d tested positive for the substance for a period of two months, Magnuson barked from the bench: “That does offend me.”
The union, wanting to play out the season’s clock, said Magnuson should take more time to learn about the issues and the particular circumstances of the players’ drug arbitration proceedings.
The league argued that it was time to enforce the suspensions.
But Magnuson, ruling from the bench, said: “When the players are tested, two months went by and now I’m given less than two days to rule on a major decision … That’s unfair. Justice can’t function that way.”
Magnuson said he would examine a blizzard of legal documents that have been filed with him over the past two days, some just minutes before he banged the gavel this morning.
He said he would issue a full opinion later but wasn’t specific.
NFL lawyer Dan Nash refused comment, but Kessler said it would be extremely difficult for the league to appeal Magnuson’s ruling today to the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The players have sought full discovery — or interviews — with key people in the case, so, even after Magnuson issues a written opinion, it’s unlikely there will be a swift resolution, the players association lawyers speculated.
Kessler is a gem. He comes through town a few times a year because many NFL labor matters are conducted before U.S. District Court Judge David Doty.
The last time I saw him make his passionate arguments was about a year ago, when the Michael Vick case was heard here. In that one, the dog-fighting NFL quarterback was looking to preserve his signing bonus of about $20 million, even though he was headed to jail.
Somehow, Kessler convinced Doty that Vick’s contract and the NFL labor agreement prohibited the Atlanta Falcons from getting their money back. Doty agreed.
The last time Kessler was in the news was representing Oscar Pistorius, the South African amputee and Paralympics star who wanted to run in the able-bodied Olympics.
Kessler took that case without pay. He lost it but pushed Pistorius to the brink of the Beijing Games.
Today, Magnuson kicked off the hearing wondering why Kessler was bringing a collective bargaining dispute to court.
Kessler said these Williams circumstances were “extraordinary.”
Three hours later, Magnuson seemed to agree with the Vikings’ best friend this week, Jeffrey Kessler, Esq.