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Thursday, April 21, 2011
Updated: April 22, 4:10 PM ET
NFL denies law firm's request

ESPN.com news services

MINNEAPOLIS -- The NFL has rejected a law firm's request for a conflict-of-interest waiver to represent a group of players seeking to join the antitrust fight against the league.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Thursday the league notified the firm of the denial. The firm later was identified as Barnes & Thornburg of Indianapolis.

"As in any case where our law firm is asked to be adverse to an existing client, even on an unrelated matter, we will not undertake the new representation without the current client's consent," the law firm said Friday in a statement. "We contacted the NFL about the matter and the NFL declined to consent to our prospective adverse representation. As we would with any client, we respect the NFL's declination of consent and will not be accepting an engagement adverse to the NFL. Because of client and prospective client confidentiality obligations we are unable to comment further."

Aiello said it would be inappropriate to allow the firm to work with players in a claim against the NFL while one of its partners represents the league in music licensing for shows on NFL Network and NFL Films.

"While we do not know the specifics of the claims that would be asserted or the players who would be involved, we cannot consent to the firm's request to grant a waiver," Aiello said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

According to ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen, two law firms were soliciting players.

Cafferty Faucher attorney Bryan Clobes has said his firm had "discussions about representing some additional players who want to have a voice" in the court fight. But Clobes said Thursday that the firm has not represented the NFL in any matters.

The NFLPA obtained a copy of a letter to players being solicited, and released it to some, if not all, of its players, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

In the letter, the firm claimed it received a "welcome" response to a request for a waiver.

The Sports Business Journal reported that the group seeking a voice in labor negotiations includes about 70 players upset that collective bargaining talks broke off last month. Clobes told The AP the number is "nowhere near 70" and the discussions did not indicate dissatisfaction with the representation for the 10 players listed as plaintiffs on the lawsuit filed March 11.

That was when the CBA expired and the union dissolved to pursue the antitrust suit. The league responded by ordering the lockout.

The players asked U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson to immediately halt the lockout at a hearing April 6. Her ruling is expected soon.

The NFL also argued Thursday in a court filing that players don't deserve millions of dollars in damages after a different federal judge ruled against the league in a wrangling over $4 billion in broadcast rights revenue.

U.S. District Judge David Doty ruled March 1 the NFL failed to maximize revenue for both sides to share when it negotiated the last round of TV contract extensions with the networks.

The players requested revenue "left on the table" in 2009 and 2010, but lawyers for the league wrote Thursday there's no evidence networks would've paid more in those years to remove work-stoppage provisions that would bring the NFL money even if no games are played in 2011.

The league argued that because a special master for Doty previously awarded $6.9 million in damages to the players, there's no legal basis for their request. The NFL wrote that lawyers for the players "never once claimed, argued for or briefed the issue of punitive damages" until now and accused them of trying to "second guess" special master Stephen Burbank with that strategy.

The players requested the $4 billion "war chest" be kept away from the owners so they couldn't use it to "continue to fund" the lockout against them. They also asked for at least three times the total amount of compensation awarded by the court.

Doty will preside over a hearing May 12 to consider the damages request.

The players used a written claim by finance expert David Schulte in their last filing March 31 to argue for the damages, but the NFL countered Thursday that Schulte's prior testimony in front of the special master contradicted the latest request.

According to the court document, Schulte told Burbank he had no "clue" how to accurately assess an appropriate amount of monetary damages.