August 19, 2015 / 2:32 PM / 4 years ago

Judge urges 'Deflategate' case settlement as NFL, union spar

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The National Football League and its players union clashed before a Manhattan federal judge on Wednesday after so far failing to reach a settlement in their dispute over the New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady’s “Deflategate” suspension.

National Football League Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith arrives at the Manhattan Federal Courthouse in New York August 19, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Before hearing two hours of argument over whether he should uphold the ban, U.S. District Judge Richard Berman again urged the league and union to strike a deal, saying both sides had “strengths and weaknesses” in their cases.

“A settlement is a logical and rational option,” Berman said.

The judge also said he would meet with the lawyers privately on Wednesday to continue discussing a potential resolution.

Absent such an agreement, Berman intends to decide whether to uphold or vacate NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s affirmation of Brady’s suspension by Sept. 4, before the season begins.

Berman also scheduled another court session on Aug. 31 and ordered Brady and Goodell to appear; neither was present on Wednesday.

Brady, one of the league’s biggest stars, was suspended for four games over his alleged role in a scheme to deflate footballs used in the Patriots’ 45-7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in a January playoff game.

Ted Wells, a lawyer hired by the NFL to investigate the incident, placed the blame on two Patriots employees, but found that Brady was “generally aware” of what happened. An underinflated football can be easier to grip, particularly in cold conditions.

The Patriots’ win sent them to the Super Bowl, where they beat the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 for Brady’s fourth title.

As he did at a court hearing last week, Berman saved his toughest questions for Daniel Nash, the NFL’s lawyer, asking why Goodell refused to provide investigative notes to Brady’s lawyers and declined to allow a top NFL executive to be examined at Brady’s appeal hearing in June.

Nash said Goodell simply exercised his authority under the league’s collective bargaining agreement, which calls for him to arbitrate any disciplinary appeal.

“Somebody needs to make a call, and under the CBA, that person is the commissioner,” Nash said.

Berman also said Goodell seemed to make a “quantum leap” in concluding Brady was not just “generally aware” of the scheme, but actively took part in it.

Nash argued that Goodell was entitled to do so based on his assessment of the evidence.

But Jeffrey Kessler, a lawyer for the union, said the appeals process was fundamentally unfair because Goodell was essentially reviewing his own conduct.

“His power is not limitless,” Kessler said.

If the suspension remains in place, Brady would not return until Oct. 18 when the Patriots visit the Colts.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe, Meredith Mazzilli and G Crosse

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