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Neutral Arbitrator to Hear Ray Rice Appeal

By David Benowitz, criminal defense attorney and firm co-founder

Sept. 30, 2014

Ray Rice Appeal to be heard by Neutral ArbitratorThe NFL, for the first time, agreed to the use of a neutral arbitrator to hear the appeal of Ray Rice’s indefinite suspension. NFL Players Association (NFLPA) Executive Director DeMaurice Smith informed members by email of this development:

“For the first time ever, the league in the Rice Appeal, has agreed to use a neutral arbitrator which is being selected in discussions with the NFLPA…. Although this occurs in the context of a difficult set of facts and circumstances, it is positive movement on the overall question of neutral arbitration and a fair Personal Conduct discipline process.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had previously agreed to recuse himself from hearing the case because he indicated in a disciplinary letter that he increased Rice’s original two game suspension due to “new evidence” revealed in the video, released by TMZ, depicting Rice knocking out his then-fiancée.

The NFLPA is expected to argue that the Goodell violated Article 46 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which is interpreted to require one punishment for one offense, and does not allow for the increase in punishment that Goodell imposed without justification. Goodell’s reliance on the video as “new evidence” will be challenged as not credible in light of the allegations that it was actually delivered to the NFL months before Rice’s two-game suspension was imposed.

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The most positive development to come out of the Rice debacle is that the appointment of an independent arbitrator is hopefully the first step in removing the disciplinary process from Roger Goodell’s soiled hands. Since he took over as Commissioner in 2006, he has acted as judge, jury, and executioner in player disciplinary matters. It’s clear that this approach is not workable and leads to the type of situation that has arisen here. In an Outside the Lines article, ESPN alleges that Goodell imposed the lenient two-game suspension in part because of his relationship with Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti. For Goodell to put himself in a position that leaves him and the NFL open to this type of accusation is incredibly irresponsible.

David Benowitz is a veteran criminal defense attorney based in Washington, DC who has successfully defended clients against a variety of charges, including state and federal offenses. Mr. Benowitz is licensed to practice law in the District of Columbia and Maryland as well as the United States District Courts for the District of Columbia and the District of Maryland, and the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

(image by Staff Sgt. Benjamin Hughes of the U.S. Air Force)