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Judge delays ruling in bounty case

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  • Judge delays ruling in bounty case

    NEW ORLEANS -- The judge hearing arguments on the NFL's motion to dismiss linebacker Jonathan Vilma's lawsuit seeking to overturn his bounty suspension declined to rule on the case Friday.

    U.S. District Court Judge Ginger Berrigan told lawyers Friday that she wanted to rule for Vilma, but had significant concerns whether she could do so legally before another hearing on the matter on Aug. 30.

    On that date, an appeal will be heard on the ruling of an arbiter, who decided in June that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has the authority to discipline the Saints players for their roles in the bounty system.

    According to ESPN legal analyst Roger Cossack, the most significant development Friday was that the judge indicated she wants to rule in Vilma's favor, but wasn't sure she legally could do so in accordance with the players' contracts with the NFL, and decided she's bound to wait until the appeal hearing on Aug. 30.

    Cossack said the players appear to have found a judge who is favorable to their case, and has indicated she believes Goodell's penalties were too severe and didn't fit the crime.

    Judge Berrigan did urge both parties to continue to try to reach a settlement as she explores her legal options before the next hearing.

    After the hearing, Vilma told ESPN's Shelley Smith that the "only thing better would have been a decision."

    Asked what he thought when the judge said she wanted to rule in favor of the players, Vilma said: "I didn't really thnk anything. I came here with no expections. I'm glad she could see through some of the b.s. I'm cook with that until we get a decision. Patience is my best friend."

    "She encouraged us to engage in settlement discussions," Vilma said. "It's courts, that's all I'm saying. I'm learing it's a long process."

    Jeffrey Kessler, attorney for the NFL Players Association, said, "Hopefull she will rule before the start of the season."

    Vilma was one of four current or former players who have been suspended in connection with the league's bounty probe of the Saints. Teammate Will Smith, a defensive end, got four games, while defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, now with Green Bay, was docked eight games. Linebacker Scott Fujita, now with Cleveland, was suspended for three games.

    Smith, Hargrove and Fujita are being represented by the NFL Players Association, which also has filed suit in federal court in New Orleans seeking to have the suspensions overturned.

    Vilma's attorneys have argued that Goodell made biased public statements about the linebacker's involvement in the bounty scandal well before the process of player discipline began, making it impossible for the commissioner to be an impartial arbitrator as called for in both the NFL's collective bargaining agreement and federal labor law.

    Vilma also is suing Goodell individually for defamation.
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