By BRETT MARTEL, Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The NFL on Monday asked a federal judge to block Jonathan Vilma's demands for evidence in the league's bounty probe of the Saints, and a magistrate has ordered lawyers in the case to convene in New Orleans on Thursday to discuss the matter.
The league's latest move was to counter Vilma's attempt to initiate discovery in his defamation lawsuit against Roger Goodell, which alleges the commissioner lacked sufficient evidence when he publicly prejudged the Saints linebacker as the ring-leader of New Orleans' pay-for-injury bounty system.
The NFL's motion argues that discovery is premature because another motion to dismiss Vilma's lawsuit is still pending.
The league said Vilma's lawyer, Peter Ginsberg, has this month subpoenaed the NFL, Goodell, NFL investigator Joe Hummel, former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and former Saints assistant Mike Cerullo.
Ginsberg has demanded documents and sought to schedule depositions, including a deposition of Goodell on Oct. 23.
Goodell initially suspended Vilma for the entire 2012 season after concluding he helped organize a bounty pool that league investigators have said the Saints ran for three seasons from 2009-11.
The suspensions of Vilma and three other players have since been vacated on technical, jurisdictional grounds by an appeal panel operating within the NFL's collective bargaining agreement. That decision has led to the re-instatement of the four players and has forced Goodell to begin the disciplinary process for the players over again.
Goodell last week met with Vilma as well as Saints defensive end Will Smith, who had been suspended four games, and free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, who had been suspended eight games.
Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita, who had been suspended three games, had a meeting scheduled last week, but it was postponed.
Goodell has not yet handed down new punishment in the matter, and it is not clear when that will come.
In addition to fighting their previous suspensions through procedures called for by the NFL's labor agreement, the four players have also sued in federal court in New Orleans. Vilma has his own attorneys, while the NFL Players Association has represented the other three. Only Vilma has sued for defamation. The other federal claims, made by all four players, generally state that Goodell violated labor law by failing to act as an impartial arbitrator. They also ask the judge to bar the commissioner from punishing the players in the bounty matter.
U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan, who is presiding over the consolidated federal cases, has indicated that she is concerned about whether she has jurisdiction to rule in the matter while the process governed by the NFL's labor agreement is still playing out.
When the appeal panel vacated the four players' suspensions on Sept. 7, Berrigan issued an order saying she would take no action on pending matters "at this time."
It was after that order that Vilma's attorneys began sending out subpoenas demanding documents and depositions related to Vilma's defamation claims. Ginsberg has asked to depose Williams on Oct. 15, Cerullo on Oct. 9 and Hummel on Oct. 16.
Williams and Cerullo have provided the NFL with signed declarations in which they stated that they observed Vilma offering what they believed were $10,000 rewards for knocking then-Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner and then-Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre out of 2009-10 playoff games.
Williams, hired by St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher last winter, is suspended indefinitely from the NFL. Cerullo has not worked in the NFL since being fired by the Saints in 2010. He recently worked for the Connecticut football program, and his recent declaration stated he now is director of football operations at Princeton.
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