NEW YORK, N.Y. – NFL lawyers told a federal appeals court in Manhattan on Monday that it was “unfathomable” that a judge could decide to lift New England quarterback Tom Brady’s four-game suspension in the “Deflategate” controversy.
The lawyers said in papers filed with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Judge Richard Berman reached an “inexplicable” conclusion when he determined that the league failed to adequately warn Brady of the potential suspension and made errors in its investigation that required him to nullify the penalty.
The league asked the appeals court to reverse the lower-court judge and reinstate the penalty that would have kept Brady out of the first four games of this season.
Berman’s ruling came a week before the start of a season in which the Patriots are undefeated through six games. He found that the league’s actions were “premised upon several significant legal deficiencies.”
The appeals court isn’t scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case before February, meaning this season will not be affected by any outcome.
Attorneys for the NFL Players Association didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Berman ruled after the NFL asked the court to find that it had acted appropriately in its investigation and handling of a controversy that arose after balls were believed to be improperly deflated prior to January’s AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts. New England beat the Colts 45-7.
A league investigation found it was “more probable than not” that two Patriots ball handling employees deliberately released air from Patriots game balls. In upholding the findings in July, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell concluded Brady conspired with his team’s ball handlers and tried to obstruct the league’s probe, including by destroying his cellphone.
In its papers Monday, the league said Goodell properly followed the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the union.
“His decision not only walked through all the evidence he considered and credited in painstaking detail, but also explained at length his efforts to determine how the CBA should be applied to the unprecedented situation before him,” the lawyers wrote.
They said Berman ignored decades of legal precedents and approached the case through a “fundamentally flawed” analysis, refusing to accept Goodell’s view of the facts.
The lawyers wrote that the judge’s finding that the league’s conclusions were so far outside the bounds of what the contract allows that Goodell’s decision must be nullified “is unfathomable.”
“The district court egregiously overstepped the bounds of its proper role,” the NFL said. “Where lower courts have committed a similar error, appellate courts have not hesitated to reverse. The court should do so here.”
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