Venue disputes aren’t normally entertaining. But then again, venue disputes don’t normally involve professional basketball players, embarrassing emails, a smattering of Biglaw firms, and delicious, delicious irony.
Former National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Billy Hunter, whose management of the union representing the NBA’s players is blamed by some for dragging out the NBA lockout that nearly derailed last season, may soon get kicked out of the venue where he filed a multimillion dollar suit last month. He’ll finally understand how the players felt.
His adversary, NBPA President Derek Fisher, has filed a motion alleging that Billy Hunter chose the venue because of his close personal relationship with the presiding judge.
It would be a shame for Hunter if they had emails to prove it.
Uh oh, Billy…
Billy Hunter brought his suit, against Fisher, his assistant Jamie Wior, and the NBPA itself alleging a number of contract and tort claims arising from his termination in February and alleged defamation:
Was Billy Hunter wrongfully terminated on February 17, 2013? His firing occurred when Fisher and the other members of the NBPA Executive Committee sent Hunter a letter notifying his that he was terminated, effective immediately. The letter allegedly states that, “Because the Contract of Employment (Extension Contract for Billy Hunter) dated June 21, 2010 was not expressly negotiated, executed, or approved, that contract is null, void, invalid, and unenforceable.” Hunter’s counterargument is that he accepted an extension in 2010, which stretched Hunter’s employment through June 30, 2015. Hunter further alleges that Fisher signed that agreement and consented to the extension. Therefore, Hunter’s stance is that Fisher terminated his employment without cause and in violation of Hunter’s contract.
Hunter, who is represented by Sidley Austin, brought his claims in Oakland, CA. The union is headquartered in New York, and Fisher and Wior live in Los Angeles. Fisher thinks Hunter has brought this case from way outside (see what I did there?) and has challenged the venue selection:
According to the attorney for Fisher and assistant Jamie Wior, Hunter had no legal basis to sue in the Superior Court of Alameda County because neither defendant lives there and because the NBPA is headquartered in New York City. Hunter sued Fisher, Wior and the NBPA on May 16, claiming defamation and breach of contract stemming from his dismissal from the NBPA in February.
“Plaintiff Billy Hunter filed his complaint in the wrong court,” said the motion, obtained by CBSSports.com. Andrew Kassof, attorney for Fisher and Wior, argues in the motion that the case should be transferred to Los Angeles County, where both Fisher and Wior live.
“The suit has no merit and my clients, Mr. Fisher and Ms. Wior, plan to defend it vigorously,” Kassof said. “First, however, it must be moved to the appropriate court.”
Fisher, through his lawyer Andrew Krassof of Kirkland & Ellis, alleges that Hunter selected the Oakland court because of a close personal relationship with the presiding judge, a claim bolstered by emails obtained by the defense that not only show a friendly relationship, but DISCUSS THIS VERY DISPUTE:
In an exhibit filed with the motion, Kassof presented a record of emails exchanged between Hunter and C. Don Clay, the presiding judge of the Superior Court of Alameda County, where Hunter filed his lawsuit. The emails in April 2012 indicated a friendly, sympathetic relationship between Hunter and the judge.
In one email, Clay wrote to Hunter, in an apparent reference to Fisher: “This guy and his advisors still think that they can out think you! They will never give up! You know always to be on the alert! Keep up the fight! We will continue to pray for you!”
Hunter responded: “C. Don thanks so much for the support. I now know how Obama feels, since he has to contend with this bs on a daily basis. I have urged the [board] to conduct an extensive audit to shutdown Derek Fisher. Keep me in your prayers.”
There hasn’t been improper, tampering communications like that since LeBron and Bosh worked out their moves to South Beach. Now this doesn’t mean that Judge Clay is going to have a hand in deciding this case, but it certainly doesn’t inspire confidence that Hunter had the best of intentions in selecting Oakland.
This is not the first major strategic blunder Hunter has made in this case. The “audit” Hunter urged the NBPA board to conduct performed about as well as the 2004 Spurs defense did in shutting down Derek Fisher. It actually did kind of the exact opposite:
The audit Hunter was referring to resulted in a nine-month investigation and a scathing report by the New York law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. The report accused Hunter of failing to properly manage conflicts of interest and putting his own personal gain ahead of the union’s interests.
So to recap, the guy accused of conflicts of interest is accused of a conflict of interest. Hard to imagine.