Judge tosses Vilma’s defamation suit against Goodell
Judge Helen Berrigan ruled Jonathan Vilma’s claims and provided evidence did not support his defamation lawsuit. She upheld Roger Goodell’s right to investigate the previously four suspended players for conduct detrimental to the league under the terms of the collective bargain agreement.
"Vilma's argument that the statements were made in Goodell's individual capacity is unpersuasive,” declared Judge Helen Berrigan, “as Goodell was sued as Commissioner of the NFL and all of the statements attributed to Goodell were made in connection with the NFL's investigation of the pay-per-performance/bounty allegations.”
“Therefore, Vilma's claims are preempted and must be dismissed.”
However, Judge Helen Berrigan criticized the initial investigation as well Roger Goodell’s disciplining of the four players.
"While the Court is extremely disturbed by the fundamental lack of due process in Goodell's denying the players the identities of and the right to confront their accusers,” added Helen Berrigan, “that was substantially rectified later in the process.”
Jonathan Vilma was suspended for the entire 2012 season for his role in the bounty program, although e wound up playing through the appeals process. Three other NFL players, New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith, Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita and free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove were also suspended over shorter variable terms. However, all four suspensions were overturned after former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue heard a final round of appeals last month. Paul Tagliabue still backed Roger Goodell’s findings in the bounty investigation.
The 30-year-old Jonathan Vilma had the defamation lawsuit against Roger Goodell filed in March, setting out 11 claims that pointed at six statements made by Roger Goodell via NFL news releases, an interview with the NFL Network and memos to 32 teams. Jonathan Vilma brought it fourth the defamation lawsuit again in December even after the suspensions were vacated. Judge Helen Berrigan displeasure over how the entire situation stretched over New Orleans Saints’ season.
"Even though matter has been pending only since May, it feels as protracted and painful as (the) Saints season itself, and calls for closure,” wrote Judge Helen Berrigan.
NFL spokesman Greg Ailleo and Roger Goodell did not have any comment over Helen Berrigan’s ruling of the defamation lawsuit on Thursday.
However, Jonathan Vilna’s lawyer Peter Ginsberg released a statement shortly afterwards indicating at a follow up to the situation.
"We are obviously disappointed, strongly believe that the CBA does not give anyone – including a commissioner – a license to misrepresent and to manufacture facts,” read the statement, “especially at the expense of another person's reputation - and are considering our options."
Jonathan Vilma will have a 30 days’ notice to file an appeal to Judge Helen Berriga’s rulling over the defamation lawsuit.