Headline Sports Law

David Cornwell Demands Action By NFLPA After Filing Lawsuit Against NFLCA

Last week, there was quite a bit of talk about the lawsuit filed by the NFLPA against the NFL Coaches Association (NFLCA) and Sports Lawyer Wm. David Cornwell.  The NFLPA says that the NFLCA owes the Players Association over $650,324.88 and disputes that Cornwell was legitimately elected Executive Director pursuant to the NFLCA Constitution.  Cornwell publicly responded to the allegations, stating in part, “I do not know which is more absurd, the claim that De is the Executive Directorof the NFLCA or the fact that the NFLPA is blocking us from using coaches’ dues money toadvance the interests of coaches.”

On April 19, 2012, Cornwell also sent four letters to individuals associated with the NFLPA.  Individual letters were addressed to Charles Ross (Director of Finance), Richard A. Berthelsen, Esq. (General Counsel), and Clark Gaines (Assistant Executive Director), and one additional letter was addressed to both Berthelsen and Gaines.

The letter to Ross demands a complete accounting identifying every transaction that forms the basis of the alleged debt owed by the NFLCA to the NFLPA.  Cornwell gave Ross a deadline of today to produce such information.

The letter to Berthelsen calls him out for allegedly violating many of his ethical obligations and legal duties to the NFLCA by “using confidential information belonging to the NFLCA in a manner adverse to the NFLCA, refusing to provide the NFLCA with its files and records, and engaging in the representation of the NFLPA in a matter where you are adverse to your former client, the NFLCA.”  Cornwell tells Berthelsen that his representation in the pending lawsuit against the NFLCA creates a conflict of interest that the NFLCA will not waive.  Among the demands by Cornwell is that Berthelsen immediately withdraws from any action against the NFLCA.  If Berthelsen does not budge, I have the feeling that Cornwell is not going to make things easy for the soon-to-be retiring General Counsel of the NFLPA.

The letter to Gaines demands an accounting identifying all transactions that he was involved in regarding the debt that the NFLPA alleges is owed by the NFLCA.  The demand is based on Cornwell’s understanding that Gaines provided “professional services” on behalf of the NFLCA in the past.

Last, in the letter addressed to both Berthelsen and Gaines, Cornwell expresses displeasure at the manner in which the gentlemen sent files to him – “to have just thrown them in boxes and shipped them.”  Further, Cornwell states that no financial information or banking records are in the files that were produced.  Cornwell gave them a deadline of this past Friday to provide any withheld files.

In response to all of the aforementioned letters, Cornwell received an email from the NFLPA’s outside counsel, Joseph “Chip” Yablonski, advising Cornwell to review Rule 4.2 of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct, which says that a lawyer “shall not communicate about the subject matter of the representation with a person the lawyer knows to be represented by another lawyer in the matter,” and Yablonski threatened to bring such conduct to the Court.  The potential issue with Yablonski’s stance is that Cornwell has not filed a Notice of Appearance on behalf of the NFLCA (there is no reason to believe that he is serving as counsel to the NFLCA in the pending lawsuit).

Nevertheless, expect the hardball litigation tactics to continue.  I foresee the relationship between the NFLPA and the NFLCA/Cornwell to further deteriorate before any resolution arises.

By Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner created Sports Agent Blog as a New Year's Resolution on December 31, 2005. Originally titled, "I Want To Be A Sports Agent," the website was founded with the intention of causing Heitner to learn more about the profession that he wanted to join, meet reputable individuals in the space and force himself to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Heitner now runs Heitner Legal, P.L.L.C., which is a law firm with many practice areas, including sports law and contract law. Heitner has represented numerous athletes and sports agents as legal counsel. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University Bloomington from 2011-2014, where he created and taught a course titled, Sport Agency Management, which included subjects ranging from NCAA regulations to athlete agent certification and the rules governing the profession. Heitner serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he teaches a Sports Law class that includes case law surrounding athlete agents and the NCAA rules.