The District’s top law enforcement official stepped up to the plate last week, filing a consumer protection lawsuit against the Washington Commanders, their owner Dan Snyder, the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Everyone expects Attorney General Karl Racine to strike out. It certainly seems like a stretch to take the allegations of a toxic workplace and sexual misconduct supposedly uncovered and then covered up in the league’s Beth Wilkinson investigation and weave them into a lawsuit charging everyone with fraud against District consumers.
“For years the team and its owner have caused very real and very serious harm and then lied about it to dodge accountability,” Racine said. “They did all of this to hide the truth, protect their images and let the profits continue to roll.
“You can’t lie to D.C. residents in order to protect your image, your profits and get away with it, no matter who you are,” Racine said.
So he plans to do something about it. He’s in the batter’s box with the bat in his hands. He’s swinging for the fences, taking on Snyder and all of his partners.
At this point, Racine is the only one who has stepped up against Skipper Dan the Sailing Man.
Everyone else — for now — is still just talking: the House Congressional Oversight Committee, the Virginia attorney general, the U.S. attorney of Eastern Virginia, the Federal Trade Commission.
There may be more legal action in the works, but we are more than two years removed from the start of the NFL’s Wilkinson probe, and as of today, only Racine has picked up a bat — even if most legal experts are mighty skeptical he will be able to do much with it.
But there are all kinds of things that can happen once you’re standing at the plate. Sometimes just putting the ball in play is enough.
For the plaintiffs, that may mean just getting to the discovery and deposition stage — getting Skipper Dan and others to explain their actions under oath for the public record.
“The depositions are not likely to occur on a yacht, but in a conference room in the District of Columbia,” Racine said at the Nov. 10 press conference, referring to Skipper Dan hiding out from congressional testimony on his $200 million yacht.
Discovery and depositions, like a walk, might be as good as a hit. The NFL is deathly afraid of depositions and discovery. That’s why they have fiercely tried to get the lawsuit filed by fired Las Vegas Raiders coach Jon Gruden — whose emails back and forth to former Washington team president Bruce Allen that were leaked to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times reignited the whole Washington toxic workplace furor — dismissed in court.
Of course, John Brownlee and Stuart Nash, the lawyers representing Skipper Dan and the Commanders, boldly professed looking forward to their day in court. “Although the lawsuit repeats a lot of innuendo, half-truths and lies, we welcome this opportunity to defend the organization — for the first time — in a court of law and to establish, once and for all, what is fact and what is fiction,” they said.
That’s the last thing they want, and you can be sure they will try to have the lawsuit dismissed right from the start, avoiding the dreaded depositions and discovery.
You might think, based on some of the scorn that has been heaped on the District’s lawsuit, that getting it thrown out will be a legal piece of cake.
We’ll see. The lawsuit will be heard by D.C. Superior Court Judge Heidi Pasichow, with an initial conference scheduled for Feb. 10 — two days before the Super Bowl, according to sports legal analyst Daniel Wallach.
Turns out that Judge Pasichow is a big fan of the Consumer Protection Procedures Act that Racine has accused Snyder and Co. of violating.
In July, Judge Pasichow ruled against Smithfield Foods in its motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed under the statute by the advocacy group Food and Water Watch charging that the company lied to consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic to protect profits, putting workers at risk.
In February, Judge Pasichow ruled against Alfa Vitamins in its motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Consumer Protection Association that accused Alfa Vitamins of deceptive marketing and false advertising.
And in another case last year, Judge Pasichow denied a religious organization’s motion to dismiss an action filed by the D.C. attorney general under the Consumer Protection Procedures Act, citing both liberal pleading standards and the act’s broad remedial purpose, according to Wallach.
Brownlee, Snyder’s top lawyer, knows that plenty of good — and bad — things can happen when you have the bat in your hands. The former federal prosecutor was the only one willing to take a big swing against Purdue Pharma in the OxyContin scandal. Brownlee was one of the heroes in the book “Dopesick” by Beth Macy.
But Brownlee and his partner took a bad, bad swing last week, a Juan-Marichal-hitting-Johnny-Roseboro-over-the-head with a bat kind of swing, with the ill-conceived response to the lawsuit that dragged Commanders running back and shooting victim Brian Robinson into the team’s criticism of Racine.
“Less than three months ago, a 23-year-old player on our team was shot multiple times, in broad daylight,” a Commanders statement said. “Despite the out-of-control violent crime in D.C., today the Washington Commanders learned for the first time on Twitter that the D.C. Attorney General will be holding a press conference to ‘make a major announcement’ related to the organization tomorrow.”
That left team President Jason Wright, who attributed the statement to “external counsel,” to try to clean up the mess. Wright has as much control over the chaos of this organization as Vinny Cerrato did and seems just as competent.
“The lawyers’ legitimate frustrations with the AG should have been separate and apart from referencing the terrible crime that affected our player,” Wright said in his clean-up statement.
The vow by Brownlee and Nash to seek their day in court is right out of the Purdue Pharma playbook. In 2003, after the company won dismissals of numerous lawsuits filed by OxyContin victims, their general counsel, Howard Udell, said, “These dismissals strengthen our resolve to defend these cases vigorously and to the hilt.”
He would be one of the Purdue Pharma executives who would later plead guilty to criminal charges of misleading doctors and patients about the dangers of the drug.
That didn’t happen until someone stepped up to the plate, ready to take a big swing.
Hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.
• Thom Loverro can be reached at email@example.com.
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