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Lawyers for NFL, players talk mediation with judge

- Associated Press - Friday, April 8, 2011

ST. PAUL, MINN. (AP) - The locked-out NFL players don't want to go back to collective bargaining with the league. They have now made a move to allow their former union boss to be present if court-supervised talks take place between the two sides.

Attorneys for the NFL and the players held a conference call Friday to discuss mediation with U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson, who is currently deciding whether to lift the lockout.

League spokesman Greg Aiello confirmed the call took place and said Nelson wanted details to remain private. Jeffrey Kessler, a lawyer for the players, declined to comment.

The most notable development Friday was the formal addition of DeMaurice Smith as an attorney for the players. Smith is the executive director of the NFL Players Association, which is now officially a trade association and not a union. Lawyers who practice in a different state must file for approval through the court.

NFLPA spokesman Carl Francis confirmed that the move allows Smith to participate in any mediation sessions that might take place under Nelson's supervision.

After a hearing Wednesday on the players' request for an injunction to stop the lockout, Nelson urged both sides to resume talks toward a new labor pact. Negotiations broke down last month.

Both sides expressed a willingness to talk again after the hearing, but the NFL wants to resume negotiations before a federal mediator in Washington while the players prefer to remain in Nelson's court.

Lawyers from each side sent letters to each other and to Nelson outlining their stances.

"The purpose of the mediation would be to negotiate a settlement not only of the issues raised in the complaints, but also the many other issues that must be resolved to permit the upcoming season to be played and for the league to operate effectively," wrote David Boies, an attorney for the NFL.

He also said the federal mediator has a 16-day "head start" on the issues.

Barbara Berens, a lawyer for the players, spelled out support of Nelson's offer to supervise.

"We think this is an excellent suggestion and are prepared to engage in such mediation without delay," Berens wrote.

The players voted to dissolve the union and filed an antitrust lawsuit against the league last month, and owners declared a lockout. The players say the lockout is illegal, and the owners say the decertification of the union was a negotiating ploy.

No fresh talks have occurred since the expiration of the previous CBA on March 11.

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AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski contributed to this report.

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