Jonathan Vilma, the New Orleans Saints player facing a potential full-season National Football League suspension for his alleged role in a plot to intentionally injure opponents, asked a U.S. judge to cancel that punishment.
Vilma, in papers filed today with U.S. District Judge Helen G. Berrigan in New Orleans, argued that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is irredeemably biased against him and can’t act as an impartial arbitrator.
Goodell on Oct. 9 reimposed a full-year punishment for the Saints linebacker and captain, after that sanction and lesser bans for three other players were thrown out by arbitrators who said the commissioner exceeded his authority.
“Goodell engaged in a farcical review, imposed the same punishment as previously imposed, and continued his abuse of the process,” the player’s lawyers said in a filing.
The NFL will file its response later this week, Brian McCarthy, a spokesman for the 32-team league, said in an e-mailed message. The organization’s headquarters is in New York.
In a written order issued late today, Berrigan directed the football league to file its answering papers by noon on Oct. 17 and said she would issue a decision without oral argument from their lawyers.
Vilma, together with fellow Saint Will Smith and former teammates Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove, were punished for allegedly participating in a “bounty” scheme to reward players for hits that forced opponents out of NFL games.
Hargrove faced an eight-game ban, while Smith received a four-game suspension and Fujita a three-game sanction.
Arbitrators in September said Goodell overstepped his bounds by punishing the players for money they received outside their contracts, while upholding his ability to enact punishment for trying to injure opponents.
Goodell re-imposed the full-season ban on Vilma as well as Smith’s four-game punishment. He trimmed Hargrove’s suspension by one game to seven and reduced Fujita’s to one.
The National Football League Players Association today filed papers with Berrigan seeking an order throwing out those punishments too. That request is also scheduled to be heard on Nov. 7.
Vilma, who has been injured this season, said he will be available to play in his team’s scheduled Oct. 21 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, according to a report appearing on the website of the Walt Disney Co.-owned ESPN.com.
The case is Vilma v. Goodell, 12-cv-1283, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).