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ST. LOUIS (AP) - The NFL and its players went back to court Friday for a pivotal hearing before a federal appeals court on the legality of the lockout, now nearly three months old with no sign of a new collective bargaining agreement that would save the 2011 season.
The two sides each got roughly 30 minutes before a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, swapping sometimes-dense arguments over the lockout imposed by owners after labor talks fell apart in March.
The panel has twice decided to keep the lockout in place pending the full appeal. It did not issue an immediate decision and Judge Kermit Bye smiled as he told the attorneys before they left the courtroom: “We wouldn’t be all that hurt if you go out and settle that case.”
“We hope the arguments we presented in the briefs and in court will be persuasive,” he said.
Some 200 people were in the jammed courtroom, taking advantage of folding chairs set up in the attorneys’ seating area. Among them were some two dozen players, including Green Bay’s Cullen Jenkins, the Jets‘ Tony Richardson and Giants standout Osi Umenyiora.
Players leader DeMaurice Smith was there. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was in Fort Bragg, N.C., a league spokesman tweeting that Goodell isn’t a lawyer and “wouldn’t have added much to the legal proceedings.”
At the heart of the hearing was U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson’s decision on April 25 to lift the lockout, saying it was illegal and agreeing with the players that they were suffering harm.
In a case Bye called complex, given its collision of antitrust and labor law, attorneys for both sides spent most of the 68-minute hearing arguing case law and legal precedent, at times pressed to elaborate by two judges _ Steven Colloton and Duane Benton _ whose earlier rulings sided with the league.
Paul Clement, a former U.S. solicitor general representing the NFL, insisted the Norris-LaGuardia Act bars injunctions in cases arising from a labor dispute, which he maintained was in play here. He said Nelson’s decision ran afoul of that statute.
“When you look at this case, the first and clearest obstacle is the Norris-LaGuardia Act,” Clement said, pitching that the effort to resolve the dispute would be better outside a courtroom. “Ultimately, collective bargaining is a much better way to resolve these disputes than antitrust litigation.”
Olson countered that the Norris-LaGuardia Act didn’t apply without organized labor activity, noting that the players’ union legally dissolved March 11 before the court fight.
“The players are perfectly happy to be protected by antitrust laws,” he argued, insisting the NFL is “recidivist” in violating such laws.
Olson said players continue to be harmed financially by the lockout, saying “there is damage being done every single day to the players.”
By David Keene
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