District court judge Richard Berman has seen his fair share of high-profile cases. In 2010, he was the presiding judge over a case involving an Al-Qaida operative. The case he is presiding over today doesn't involve terrorism, but it is one of the most closely watched court cases in the news - Tom Brady's Deflategate appeal.
Berman had encouraged the two sides in the case to settle, and today seemed frustrated as he questioned NFL lawyer Daniel Nash, repeatedly asking, per The New York Times, "What is the direct evidence that implicates Mr. Brady?" Skeptical that Brady was involved at all, Berman noted that his second-half performance in the AFC Championship game was better than the first half when the balls were inflated the lower levels that Brady allegedly prefers. The NFL was not the only entity taking heat from Berman. The judge questioned Brady's attorney Jeffrey Kessler about the destruction of Brady's cellphone.
Despite Berman's tone today, the NFLPA faces an uphill battle as they challenge the NFL. Courts do not like to overturn arbitration decisions, especially in the private sector. Law professor and arbitrator Marc Greenbaum told the Boston Globe that only five of his 600 decisions have ever been overturned by a judge.
One of the complaints Brady's team has is that Goodell was the neutral arbitrator during the initial appeal of the suspension. A judge is unlikely to find fault with that since the most recent collective bargaining agreement stipulates that Goodell can serve in that role. If the NFLPA can prove that the process was unfair and that Goodell was not impartial, they might see the suspension reduced or vacated.
Another potentially strong argument is that according to the NFL Player Policies, the punishment for an equipment violation is merely a fine, not a suspension. To justify the suspension, the NFL punished Brady under the Competitive Integrity Policy, of which the players do not have a copy. In other words, Brady could say that he did not receive proper notice of the punishment.
Court reporter Stephen Brown live-tweeted the hearing. Here are some highlights involving Brady's attorney Kessler, Judge Berman, and the NFL's attorney Nash.
Kessler is fired up.— Stephen Brown (@PPVSRB) August 12, 2015
Berman tells him to stay focused on his questions. "What are you saying?" Courtroom cracks up.— Stephen Brown (@PPVSRB) August 12, 2015
Nash cites Supreme Court rulings. "When disputes like this are resolved, courts must defer to the arbitrator." #DeflateGate— Stephen Brown (@PPVSRB) August 12, 2015
BERMAN: "Somebody deflated the balls, but it didn’t help Mr. Brady. Does that matter?"— Stephen Brown (@PPVSRB) August 12, 2015
Nash explains NFL is seeking enforcement of collective bargaining agreement with NFLPA.— Stephen Brown (@PPVSRB) August 12, 2015