Persistent New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma returned to federal court on Friday, where a judge is hearing arguments on the NFL’s motion to dismiss the Saints linebacker’s lawsuit seeking to overturn his bounty suspension.
Vilma seemed hopeful but not overly so.
“You never want to go into these things with expectations,” Vilma said upon his arrival for court. “Whatever happens, happens.”
It’s not clear when U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan will rule, but if she does not dismiss the lawsuit, she could potentially rule on Vilma’s request to be allowed to temporarily return to the Saints while the case proceeds.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has suspended Vilma for the entire 2012 season, saying the linebacker was among the ring leaders of a program that offered Saints defenders improper cash bonuses for injuring opponents.
Vilma, several teammates and Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt have testified that Vilma never paid or accepted money for injuring another player.
Vilma was one of four current or former players who have been suspended in connection with the league’s bounty probe of the Saints. Teammate Will Smith, a defensive end, got four games, while defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, now with Green Bay, was docked eight games. Linebacker Scott Fujita, now with Cleveland, was suspended for three games.
Smith, Hargrove and Fujita are being represented by the NFL Players Association, which also has filed suit in federal court in New Orleans seeking to have the suspensions overturned.
Vilma’s attorneys have argued that Goodell made biased public statements about the linebacker’s involvement in the bounty scandal well before the process of player discipline began, making it impossible for the commissioner to be an impartial arbitrator as called for in both the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement and federal labor law.
The players union is arguing that Goodell did not have jurisdiction to appoint himself the arbitrator in the bounty matter because the accusations included on-the-field activity that, under the league’s labor deal, is supposed to involve an arbitrator other than the commissioner.