Saints blew a chance to keep Vicodin case quiet

The cryptic Associated Press article regarding the withdrawal of the lawsuit filed by former Saints director of security Geoffrey Santini implies that the team has finagled an early victory. And it did. With the Saints persuading Santini’s lawyer, Donald Hyatt, to refer the claim to arbitration, the case will be heard in a forum that is typically more favorable to business interests, since an arbitrator (i.e., a lawyer qualified to resolve these types of disputes) is far less likely to make decisions based on emotion than a jury made up of folks from a broad range of backgrounds and experiences — few of whom have ever been lawyers.

But the Saints’ lawyers dropped the ball on this one. If only two weeks ago they had said to Hyatt whatever they said more recently to get Hyatt to agree to pursue arbitration, none of the sensitive information that has come to light would have ever been released.

Thus, no one outside the organization (and law enforcement) ever would have known about GM Mickey Loomis’ alleged cover-up of Vicodin abuse and/or theft, the outing of Sean Payton and Joe Vitt as the guys who allegedly abused (Payton) and stole (Vitt) Vicodin, the partial transcripts of conversations between Santini and team employees indicating that a real issue had arisen regarding the distribution and theft of Vicodin, and the alleged existence of a videotape showing Vitt removing Vicodin impermissibly from the team’s drug locker.

The paperwork filed by Hyatt concedes that Santini signed an agreement in 2001 requiring the submission of claims against the Saints to arbitration. On May 10, 2010, the Saints demanded for the first time that matter be referred to arbitration.

Eight days before the lawsuit was filed, Hyatt met with the Saints’ lawyers. However, no effort to invoke the arbitration obligation came until 10 days after the suit was filed — and nine days after the bulk of the damage was done.

The Saints knew that a lawsuit was coming. A source with knowledge of the situation previously told me that the organization was aware that the suit would be filed on Friday, April 30. All the lawyers had to do was advise Hyatt of their intention to invoke the Saints’ arbitration rights before the lawsuit was filed and, for the same reasons Hyatt has abandoned the lawsuit now, he presumably would have abandoned his plans to file it in the first place.

Moving forward, the parties will be bound by an obligation to keep the arbitration process confidential. (It’s an obligation that Saints owner Tom Benson arguably breached earlier this week, by publicly commenting on the case.) And so the matter disappears from view after Santini’s side of the story has been told in exhaustive detail — but before the Saints did anything to get their side of the story into the public consciousness.

So perhaps we should wish the person(s) who failed to invoke the arbitration provision before the suit was filed plenty of luck in their coming job search. Though Loomis, Payton and/or Vitt may never be suspended or fired due to their role in this fiasco, the lawyer(s) who could have protected the franchise from a major public embarrassment may not be employed for much longer by the defending Super Bowl champions.

Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.

The cryptic Associated Press article regarding the withdrawal of the lawsuit filed by former Saints director of security Geoffrey Santini implies that the team has finagled an early victory. And it did. With the Saints persuading Santini’s lawyer, Donald Hyatt, to refer the claim to arbitration, the case will be heard in a forum that is typically more favorable to business interests, since an arbitrator (i.e., a lawyer qualified to resolve these types of disputes) is far less likely to make decisions based on emotion than a jury made up of folks from a broad range of backgrounds and experiences — few of whom have ever been lawyers.

But the Saints’ lawyers dropped the ball on this one. If only two weeks ago they had said to Hyatt whatever they said more recently to get Hyatt to agree to pursue arbitration, none of the sensitive information that has come to light would have ever been released.

Thus, no one outside the organization (and law enforcement) ever would have known about GM Mickey Loomis’ alleged cover-up of Vicodin abuse and/or theft, the outing of Sean Payton and Joe Vitt as the guys who allegedly abused (Payton) and stole (Vitt) Vicodin, the partial transcripts of conversations between Santini and team employees indicating that a real issue had arisen regarding the distribution and theft of Vicodin, and the alleged existence of a videotape showing Vitt removing Vicodin impermissibly from the team’s drug locker.

The paperwork filed by Hyatt concedes that Santini signed an agreement in 2001 requiring the submission of claims against the Saints to arbitration. On May 10, 2010, the Saints demanded for the first time that matter be referred to arbitration.

Eight days before the lawsuit was filed, Hyatt met with the Saints’ lawyers. However, no effort to invoke the arbitration obligation came until 10 days after the suit was filed — and nine days after the bulk of the damage was done.

The Saints knew that a lawsuit was coming. A source with knowledge of the situation previously told me that the organization was aware that the suit would be filed on Friday, April 30. All the lawyers had to do was advise Hyatt of their intention to invoke the Saints’ arbitration rights before the lawsuit was filed and, for the same reasons Hyatt has abandoned the lawsuit now, he presumably would have abandoned his plans to file it in the first place.

Moving forward, the parties will be bound by an obligation to keep the arbitration process confidential. (It’s an obligation that Saints owner Tom Benson arguably breached earlier this week, by publicly commenting on the case.) And so the matter disappears from view after Santini’s side of the story has been told in exhaustive detail — but before the Saints did anything to get their side of the story into the public consciousness.

So perhaps we should wish the person(s) who failed to invoke the arbitration provision before the suit was filed plenty of luck in their coming job search. Though Loomis, Payton and/or Vitt may never be suspended or fired due to their role in this fiasco, the lawyer(s) who could have protected the franchise from a major public embarrassment may not be employed for much longer by the defending Super Bowl champions.

Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.

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