Nelson to Hear Players Case

Wednesday is the day all Pro Football fans have been waiting for.   Since the decertification of the NFL Player’s association in March, the fate of the labor unrest in the league has hinged upon the court hearing planned for April 6.

The players had hoped this hearing would be before Minnesota Senior U.S. District Judge David Doty.  Doty has handled several player lawsuits in the past and was instrumental in ending the last player/owner impasse.   But due to random judicial assignments, and the recusals of two judges who cited conflicts, this one landed before Judge Susan Richard Nelson.

On Wednesday, lawyers for Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Incoming Rookie Von Miller and other NFL players are prepared to ask Nelson for an injunction to halt the lockout imposed by owners. The players claim the lockout is causing them “irreparable harm” and they are asking it cease.

Attorneys for the NFL want to keep the lockout, saying the players are manipulating the law by decertifying as a union in mid-March.  Then filing what the league attorney’s call a baseless antitrust lawsuit.

Judge Nelson is less than four months into her career as a Federal arbiter.  However now she’s responsible for the possible fate of the NFL’s 2011 season.  Those who know Nelson say her short time on the bench won’t matter. They say her decades of courtroom experience will help and she won’t be rattled by the glare this high-profile case will bring.

The lawsuit by the players accuses the league of conspiracy and anti competitive practices.  A trial could take years, so Nelson’s lockout ruling will be key.  But it’s only the first big decision in the labor fight.   Nelson’s decision will likely be appealed, so she won’t have the final say. Still the case has been moved to a larger courtroom to accommodate the anticipated run of attorneys and media.

Doty and Nelson have some similarities.  They both worked for big law firms and have backgrounds in complex civil litigation.  Additionally Doty and Nelson and are known for making decisions based on the law.

Nelson has handled NFL issues before from the bench.  As magistrate, she helped with settlement negotiations in a case filed by retired NFL players, who claimed the league was exploiting their images to promote the league and NFL memorabilia without paying them. The case was transferred once Nelson became a judge and is still pending.  Ironically the players want to increase payments made to retired players Health benefits fund in the new agreement.

Nelson is a self-admitted sports fan and followed her son’s teams in high school closely.  She showed off her personality during her nomination process when she joked about her “judgment” in letting her college-age son miss finals to attend the hearing. Yet she also was serious about the importance of impartiality, equal access to justice for everyone and her work mentoring disadvantaged students.

Nelson may be impartial and equal in her application of the law.  But whatever her ruling, the future of the NFL depends on Judge Nelson.

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