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#pounditWednesday, February 8, 2023

Legal Matters

LIV golfers file antitrust lawsuit against PGA Tour

Phil Mickelson in golf gear

May 22, 2021; Kiawah Island, South Carolina, USA; Phil Mickelson reacts on the first green during the third round of the PGA Championship golf tournament. Mandatory Credit: David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports

A group of LIV golfers is taking major action against the PGA Tour in a bid to play in the FedEx Cup Playoffs beginning next week.

Eleven members of LIV Golf, including Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau, filed an antitrust lawsuit against the PGA Tour on Wednesday, according to Louise Radnofsky and Andrew Beaton of the Wall Street Journal. Three of the plaintiffs — Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones — are seeking a temporary restraining order in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California that would allow them to take part in next week’s FedEx Cup event, which all three had qualified for prior to their defections to LIV.

The Tour is reportedly expected to respond by defending its practices and arguing that the plaintiffs do not face a real emergency, had been aware of the situation for some time, and would be costing other golfers opportunities by insisting on their participation.

This does not come as a surprise, as LIV had indicated for some time that legal proceedings were an inevitability if the PGA Tour followed through on excluding LIV golfers from major events. Once the Tour followed through on that threat by suspending all defectors, this was only a matter of time.

The controversial Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit has attracted a number of top players, partly by offering substantially more money and more luxurious accommodations to those who join. The Tour has responded by attempting to block any defectors from participating in Tour events and established majors.

Deshaun Watson’s suspension announcement date reportedly revealed

Deshaun Watson at a press conference

Mar 25, 2022; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson talks with the media during a press conference at the CrossCountry Mortgage Campus. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns are reportedly going to have an answer very soon regarding the length of Deshaun Watson’s suspension.

NFL disciplinary officer Sue L. Robinson is expected to notify the team of Watson’s suspension length on Monday, according to CBS Sports HQ’s Josina Anderson.

“I’m told relevant parties have already been notified that Sue Robinson is currently expected to inform them of the decision in the Deshaun Watson proceeding by some time Monday, per league sources,” Anderson tweeted on Sunday.

Anderson’s report lines up with a report from Mary Kay Cabot of on Saturday which revealed that the decision could come as soon as this week.

Watson has met with Robinson multiple times. She was presented findings from an NFL-conducted investigation into the sexual assault allegations against Watson. The NFL and NFL Players Association jointly appointed Robinson as the disciplinary officer under the latest collective bargaining agreement.

While Watson’s suspension is likely to be substantial, it may not be for a full season. Even so, the Browns have prepared themselves by signing a former first-round pick for some added depth at the quarterback position.

Paolo Banchero gets charge dropped stemming from incident at Duke

Paolo Banchero at a press conference

Jun 24, 2022; Orlando, Florida, USA; Orlando Magic first overall draft pick Paolo Banchero speaks during a press conference at the Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Paolo Banchero is starting his NBA career with a clean slate in more ways than one.

Steve Wiseman of The Raleigh News & Observer reports this week that the Orlando Magic rookie forward has gotten the aiding and abetting DWI charge against him dropped. The charge stemmed from an incident last November while at Duke University. Banchero’s then-teammate Michael Savarino, who is the grandson of legendary Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, was pulled over in Orange County, NC and arrested on suspicion of DWI. Banchero, Savarino’s passenger at the time as well as the person to whom the vehicle was registered to, was hit with the aiding and abetting charge.

The catalyst for Banchero’s charge getting dropped was Savarino formally pleading guilty this week to DWI. Orange County assistant district attorney Maren Hardin told The Raleigh News & Observer that it is “not unusual for a person charged with aiding and abetting DWI to have his or her charge dismissed upon the disposition of the principal’s DWI.”

You can read about the terms of Savarino’s plea agreement in Wiseman’s full story here.

Both Savarino and Banchero played for Duke when the incident occurred, the former as a junior and the latter as a star freshman. Savarino has since transferred to New York University, and Banchero is now with the Magic after going No. 1 overall in last month’s NBA Draft. We also already knew some details about the incident that authorities had revealed at the time.

Brittney Griner offered in prisoner exchange for Russian arms dealer

Brittney Griner smiles

Mar 12, 2017; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner in attendance of the Phoenix Suns game against the Portland Trail Blazers at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The United States confirmed Wednesday that it has offered a deal to Russia in an effort to bring Brittney Griner back to the country.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed Wednesday that the Biden administration had made a “substantial proposal” several weeks ago to facilitate the release of Griner and another American, Paul Whelan, who is also detained in Russia, via ESPN. Reportedly, the U.S. offered to trade convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout to secure Griner’s release.

There was no indication that the Russian government had responded to the offer. Blinken added that he plans to speak with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov about Griner as well.

The government has been publicly cautious in dealing with Griner’s case during her ongoing trial in Russia. There was one suggestion in May that it was moving toward a potential outcome like this, but it is the first we have heard about an active prisoner exchange effort.

Griner was taken into custody on Feb. 17 after authorities allegedly found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage. She is said to be facing up to 10 years in prison.

MLB agrees to $185 million settlement in minor league wage lawsuit

Rob Manfred looking ahead

Oct 26, 2021; Houston, TX, USA; MLB commissioner Rob Manfred before game one of the 2021 World Series between the Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

MLB has agreed to a major settlement to resolve a federal lawsuit they were facing.

MLB will pay $185 million to the members of a class action lawsuit to settle the complaints. The suit was filed in 2014 by three minor league players who believed their lack of payments violated laws.

The suit argued that minor league players deserved to make at least minimum wage and receive overtime payment. The $185 million settlement, minus attorneys fees, will go to eligible minor leaguers.

According to ESPN, players who participated in “extended spring training in Florida starting Feb. 7, 2009; Cal League players from Feb. 7, 2010 on; and players from Arizona spring training and extended after Feb. 7, 2011” are eligible to receive money from the settlement.

Another consequence of the settlement is that MLB can now tell teams they are allowed to pay minor league players during spring training, extended spring training and instructional leagues in Florida and Arizona.

For years, MLB has been facing calls of mistreatment and underpayment of minor leaguers. They are making efforts to improve the pay and standard of living for minor leaguers. And now they will be giving backpay to past minor leaguers.

Texans settle all claims related to Deshaun Watson scandal

Deshaun Watson at a press conference

Mar 25, 2022; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson talks with the media during a press conference at the CrossCountry Mortgage Campus. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Texans were accused by more than two dozen women of failing to act after they learned of Deshaun Watson’s alleged troubling behavior, but all of those claims have been settled.

Attorney Tony Buzbee announced on Friday that 30 women who either filed claims or planned to file claims against the Texans have agreed to settlements with the team. The terms of the agreements will not be disclosed. Buzbee said he will not offer any further comment on the Texans’ alleged role in the scandal, but he took the opportunity to criticize Watson’s legal team for the way they have handled the sexual assault allegations.

“I will have no further comment on the allegations or the Texans’ alleged role, other than to say there is a marked contrast in the way in which the Texans addressed these allegations, and the way in which Watson’s team has done so,” Buzbee wrote.

You can read the full release below:

Only one of the 30 women filed an actual lawsuit against the Texans, according to Buzbee. That lawsuit will be dismissed once the settlement is completed.

The one lawsuit made numerous troubling allegations against the Texans organization. The suit claimed the owner of a massage therapy company reached out to the team in 2020 to express concern over Watson “seeking out an unusually high number of massages from strangers on Instagram.” The Texans were also accused of trying to help cover up Watson’s alleged misconduct. You can read more details here.

Watson has settled 20 of the 24 sexual assault lawsuits that were filed against him. The fact that there were 30 women who made claims against the Texans could indicate that the Cleveland Browns star will face more lawsuits.

Agent sues Doug Gottlieb over Freddie Freeman report

Freddie Freeman looking ahead

Jun 25, 2022; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman (5) in the dugout before a game against the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Freddie Freeman’s former agent is suing a radio host over a report related to Freeman’s offseason departure from the Atlanta Braves.

Agent Casey Close is suing FOX Sports Radio host Doug Gottlieb over Gottlieb’s report that Close never informed Freeman of the Braves’ final contract offer. Close is suing for libel and claiming that Gottlieb defamed him and his agency, Excel Sports Management, by making that claim.

Close had strongly denied Gottlieb’s report and threatened legal action in late June when the claim initially came out. The fact that he is apparently following through suggests he believes he can prove that Gottlieb’s claim was false.

Gottlieb essentially claimed that Close did not act in Freeman’s best interests by concealing an offer that Freeman would have taken. That is a pretty big claim and could certainly lead some potential clients to avoid Close’s representation if true, so Close will want to clear his name here.

Judge makes key ruling in Henry Ruggs case

Henry Ruggs with the Raiders

Dec 13, 2020; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Henry Ruggs III (11) against the Indianapolis Colts at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Henry Ruggs appeared in court on Tuesday for a hearing related to the fatal crash he was allegedly responsible for last year, and a judge made a key ruling that did not go in his favor.

Las Vegas judge Ann Zimmerman ruled that blood-alcohol tests will be permitted as evidence in Ruggs’ case. The former Las Vegas Raiders star’s legal team had argued that there was no probable cause for the search warrant that required Ruggs to submit to having his blood drawn after the car accident that killed 23-year-old Tina Tintor last November.

Zimmerman disagreed. The judge said there was “more than sufficient evidence” for the search warrant.

“Nobody has mentioned so far that Mr. Ruggs was seriously injured in this accident and transported to the hospital, so he would have been unable to submit to field sobriety tests,” Zimmerman said in court, according to “Coupled with his refusal to answer questions, this does not result in a reward. … Motion to suppress is denied.”

Ruggs’ blood was drawn roughly two hours after the fatal crash near the Las Vegas Strip. His blood-alcohol content was 0.16, which is twice the legal limit in the state of Nevada.

Police say Ruggs was driving 156 mph and intoxicated when he lost control of his Corvette and slammed into a Toyota RAV4. The Toyota caught fire, killing Tintor and her dog.

Ruggs has been charged with multiple felonies, including driving under the influence resulting in death and reckless driving.

A chilling video that was released after the accident helped show just how fast Ruggs was traveling in his Corvette.

Ruggs’ attorneys have argued that local firefighters are responsible for the death of Tintor.

Reason Brittney Griner pleaded guilty to Russian drug charge revealed

Brittney Griner smiles

Mar 12, 2017; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner in attendance of the Phoenix Suns game against the Portland Trail Blazers at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Brittney Griner pleaded guilty on Thursday to drug charges in Russia, but she told the criminal court that she did not intentionally break any laws.

Griner told the court that she had “inadvertently” packed vape cartridges with hashish oil in her luggage when she was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport on Feb. 17

“I’d like to plead guilty, your honor. But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law,” Griner said.

Griner is facing up to 10 years in prison, but ESPN’s TJ Quinn reports that the guilty plea was a strategy to help facilitate a prisoner swap to potentially get the WNBA star home to the United States. It was also Griner’s way of acknowledging that she has virtually no chance of being acquitted.

The guilty plea will not end Griner’s trial. Under Russian law, a judge continues to read the full case file into the record after a guilty plea. Proceedings following a guilty plea can still drag on for weeks or months.

U.S. officials have described Griner’s trial as “theater” and believe a guilty verdict is a foregone conclusion. Eventually, the U.S. and Russia are expected to reach a deal to release one or more Russians who are in U.S. custody in exchange for Griner’s release. Quinn notes that Griner would almost certainly have to admit guilt in order for such a deal to be facilitated, which is likely why she pleaded guilty.

Earlier this week, Griner’s coach sounded off over the 31-year-old’s detainment.

Attorney for Montrezl Harrell responds to drug trafficking allegation

Montrezl Harrell looking on

Feb 12, 2022; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Charlotte Hornets center Montrezl Harrell (8) during pregame warm ups before the start between the Charlotte Hornets and the Memphis Grizzlies at the Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The attorneys for Montrezl Harrell have responded to the drug trafficking allegation the NBA player is facing.

Harrell was cited in May following a traffic stop in Kentucky. He was subsequently charged with felony drug trafficking.

Harrell claimed to have been driving a rental car in which police found “three pounds of marijuana in vacuum sealed bags” in a backpack in the back seat while conducting a search.

Harrell’s attorneys say the 28-year-old did nothing wrong.

“We want to be clear that Mr. Harrell was not driving the vehicle and following the stop he was only given a ticket to appear in court at a later date for a marijuana-related charge as were all occupants of the vehicle,” Harrell’s attorneys said, via TMZ Sports.

“Mr. Harrell was never placed under arrest. We believe that there are legal and factual issues with this case that will be addressed in court, if that becomes necessary.”

The attorneys also said Harrell has “never been a part of any form of marijuana trafficking or any other illegal activity.”

Harrell was born in Tarboro, N.C. and played college ball at Louisville. The big man won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2019-2020. He was drafted by the Houston Rockets in the second round in 2015 and has averaged 12.9 points and 5.3 rebounds per game during his career.