The long-running saga known simply as DeflateGate heads back to court Monday as Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and a host of lawyers are set to meet with the judge hearing the case brought by Brady to have his four-game suspension overturned.
Judge Richard Berman ordered the parties back to federal court in lower Manhattan for a meeting before a ruling he is scheduled to make by Friday on whether Brady will remain suspended for his alleged role in using deflated footballs in the first half of last season's AFC Championship Game.
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Berman has the authority to overturn the result of Brady's appeal of his suspension, and he has made it clear to both sides he is strongly considering a reversal of Goodell's decision to uphold the sanction after a June 23 appeal. But the judge's first preference is for both sides to negotiate a settlement before he makes any ruling, and Monday's court appearance is designed to at least keep the parties talking.
If no settlement is reached, Berman said he hopes to issue a ruling by Friday. If he upholds the suspension, Brady is expected to challenge the decision in the Second District Court of Appeals and seek a ruling that would allow him to play until the case is heard. If the judge rules in favor of Brady, the NFL is likely to challenge the decision. The league, however, might decide not to ask that Brady's suspension be reinstated because the NFL could reissue a suspension if it wins on appeal.
Berman met Aug. 12 with Brady, Goodell and their lawyers and has attempted to broker a deal ever since. Lawyers for both sides again met with Berman on Aug. 19, with Brady attorney Jeffrey Kessler arguing that the judge should overturn Goodell's decision on several grounds, including the fact that Brady was never warned during the NFL's investigative process that he could face suspension for, among other things, not turning over his cellphone to NFL-hired investigative attorney Ted Wells.
Brady didn't tell the NFL until shortly before his appeal hearing that he had actually destroyed the phone and its contents in early March, just as he was about to meet with Wells.
Berman repeatedly challenged NFL attorney Daniel Nash in the Aug. 19 hearing about why Brady's penalty should be equal to that of a first-time violator of the league's policy on steroids. Nash said a player taking steroids and a player who purposely altered footballs were similar offenses in that both involved trying to gain an edge.
Berman also attempted to have Nash break down the suspension by asking how many games Brady was sanctioned for allegedly knowing about the deflated footballs and how many for destroying his cellphone. But Nash said the league's collective-bargaining agreement with the players doesn't require Goodell to itemize how many games each violation cost Brady.
Kessler said that more than a dozen cases involving arbitration have been reversed in the Second District Court, where the case is being heard. Nash argued in a three-page letter to the court that the 19 overturned cases cited by Kessler do not relate to the Brady situation. "These cases confirm that courts vacate arbitration awards only in extraordinary circumstances," Nash wrote, "none of which are present here."