NBA Referees Hire a Lawyer

August, 28, 2007
8/28/07
4:00
PM ET

This is a press release from the National Basketball Referees Association:

The National Basketball Referees Association, which represents all active National Basketball Association referees, announced today that it has retained Philadelphia-based attorney Gregory T. Magarity to assist the association and its members in connection with the NBA's recently announced review of its entire basketball operations and officiating programs.

Mr. Magarity is a former Chief of the Criminal Division and First Assistant United States Attorney in the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and has more than 30 years' experience in federal prosecutions, criminal law, corporate internal investigations, complex litigation, mediations, and federal tax matters.

"When Commissioner David Stern informed us last week that the NBA was conducting a broad and thorough examination of all its operations in response to former referee Tim Donaghy's recent admissions of criminal wrongdoing, we immediately agreed to help in the league's efforts," stated NBRA spokesman Lamell McMorris. "We support any balanced and meaningful review that seeks to preclude future occurrences of the unlawful misconduct in which Mr. Donaghy engaged, and correct any policies and practices that may have allowed this misbehavior to take place for so long without notice. We also agreed with Commissioner Stern that this investigation should be conducted without any preconceived notions or preordained outcomes, and that every aspect of the league's day-to-day operations should be re-evaluated and re-considered, especially those affecting the recruitment, hiring, training, supervision and review of the league's officiating staff."

"I look forward to working with Larry Pedowitz at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz in connection with the NBA's league-wide operations review," commented Mr. Magarity. "We share the NBA's goal in completing this review as quickly and fairly as possible, with due consideration to the obvious fact that Mr. Donaghy participated in criminal activities and his colleagues have not. It is always difficult for an organization to deal with an isolated employee intent on committing terrible misdeeds, and this is even more so when it occurs under the media's glare. We ask for the public's patience, understanding and support as we complete this necessary process." 

Around the end of the third paragraph: I get that. That's saying, in essence, in our haste to sniff around the referees, let's not forget to review what happens at the league office. Fair enough.

The thing that strikes me is: this attorney, Gregory Magarity, his credentials are largely in criminal matters. But as far as we know, no current referees (Tim Donaghy, who is retired, is no longer a member of the NBRA) have been accused of anything criminal. So a) why hire this guy and b) why publicize it? Doesn't being represented by an attorney who knows a lot about criminals give the signal that somebody involved might need that kind of attorney?

Not so, says NBRA spokesman Lamell McMorris, whom I just spoke to on the phone. The intention is to join the NBA's investigator, Larry Pedowitz, in getting to the bottom of what happened, and this is the kind of lawyer who can do that.

"This is a criminal matter," says McMorris. "All the experiences stemming from the Donaghy matter are related to criminal activity. Our goal is just to join with the league, to collaborate, and make sure that the investigation is conducted in a manner that is fair, accurate, and transparent."

Think about it. If you're NBA referees, and the NBA has a massive investigation kicking into gear ... wouldn't you feel a little scared that you might end up as the scapegoats? Don't the rules of PR dictate that the NBA's investigation find ... something? Someone to take some blame? Wouldn't it be simpler for the league if those who are found to be at fault were people who were out there on the road, and not in the league office every day? 

Might be nice to have someone watching your back, looking at the same evidence day after day. Someone who can stand up for referees as the process unfolds. Someone who might be an early warning system if it seems like the investigation is on rails in a certain direction. I proposed that theory to Mr. McMorris. His response? "Hopefully the investigation will work out to be thorough, fair, and transparent, and we won't have to worry about that."

He adds that the NBA welcomes the news of the NBRA's appointment of Mr. Magarity -- so it's not like things are adversarial at this point.  "We're taking matters very seriously, and we want things to be done as properly as possible," says McMorris. "We see this as an opportunity to review all aspects of the NBA, not just referees." 

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