Judge: Lockout ruling to take “couple of weeks”

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ST. PAUL, MINN. (AP) - As she wrapped up the five-hour hearing on the legality of the NFL lockout, the federal judge overseeing the case said she’d take “a couple of weeks” to rule on the players’ request to return to work.

U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson, however, urged the two sides not to wait that long.

“It seems to me both sides are at risk, and now is a good time to come back to the table,” Nelson said, noting her willingness to facilitate the resumption of talks toward a new collective bargaining agreement that would put pro football back on track.

Owners and players failed to reach that goal last month, leading to the decertification of the union, the lockout of the players and the antitrust lawsuit against the owners filed here by the players.

But the two sides don’t agree on much these days.

James Quinn, an attorney for the players, said they’d “listen carefully” to Nelson’s recommendation. But David Boies, a lawyer for the league, hedged when asked about Nelson’s offer to supervise talks.

“We don’t need a settlement of this lawsuit,” Boies said. “What we need is a collective bargaining agreement so that players can go on playing and the league can put on games. Until we have that, we’re not going to make any progress.”

The injunction request _ a plea to the judge that the lockout be immediately lifted on the grounds that their careers are being irreparably harmed _ was the sole purpose of Wednesday’s hearing.

The court appearance was the first round _ call it the first quarter _ between the NFL and the players in their legal fight over the future of the $9 billion business and the 2011 season.

Teams of attorneys from both sides, officials from the now-dissolved union, several NFL players and dozens of reporters crowded the courtroom, but little was accomplished other than the formal launch of the legal process.

Boies argued that the court shouldn’t have jurisdiction while the National Labor Relations Board is considering an unfair labor charge filed by the league that players didn’t negotiate in good faith. The NFL’s contention is that the union’s decertification was a tactical maneuver and that it has the legal right to keep players from working.

Boies claimed players are still acting like a union, that the NFL Players’ Association is funding the litigation and has set up other services for the players as if it were a fully formed labor entity. DeMaurice Smith, the head of the NFLPA, attended the hearing, and the players, lawyers and union officials arrived and departed together in a bus.

“They’re financing this lawsuit,” Boies said. “They’re saying, ‘We’re no longer a collective bargaining agent, but we’re going to continue to do all these things.’”

Quinn dismissed the accusation that the decertification was a sham, pointing to unanimous participation in a player vote to approve the move.

“It’s not some kind of tactic. It’s the law,” Quinn said. “It’s what we’re allowed to do.”

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