Federal district judge Richard M. Berman is now a famous federal district court judge. Today, Judge Berman reversed a ruling by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to suspend Tom Brady for four games, due to the “deflategate” dispute over underinflated balls Brady allegedly used in the AFC Championship game in January, against the Indianapolis Colts.
Judge Berman’s decision did not rule on whether or not Brady tampered with the balls. He focused on the issues of: (1) whether the collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) between the NFL and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) grants Goodell the authority to suspend Brady, and (2) whether the NFL’s investigation was fair to Brady.
Berman found that the NFL’s case had several “significant legal deficiencies,” ruling that Brady was not treated fairly and could not be suspended for deflating footballs because he was not aware such misconduct could lead to the kind of punishment he received. Specifically, Brady’s “general awareness” that the equipment managers may have deflated the balls was not enough to suspend him, said the Judge.
Judge Berman ruled that “The court finds that Brady had no notice that he could receive a four-game suspension for general awareness of ball deflation by others or participation in any scheme to deflate footballs, and noncooperation with the ensuing investigation, ” and added that “No NFL policy or precedent notifies players that they may be disciplined (much less suspended) for general awareness of misconduct by others.”
Judge Berman also found that the NFL did not provide adequate notice to Brady of the potential penalty for the misconduct he was accused of, and that Brady’s defense team had been denied sufficient access to the NFL’s investigative files and to a NFL league official reviewing the case.
The ruling appears to vindicate Brady’s lawyer’s, who argued that the NFL did not warn Brady that he could be suspended for failing to cooperate with the NFL’s investigation, or for playing a role in tampering with equipment, which warrants a fine under the CBA.
The NFL is planning to appeal the decision.