Retirees sue attorneys after settlement

SAN FRANCISCO -- A groundbreaking legal case that seemingly concluded last year with the NFL players union agreeing to pay former players a combined $26 million for failing to look out for their commercial interests has now gone into overtime.

Several of those retired players, including Paul Hornung, John Brodie and Marvin Cobb, who believe the settlement should have been larger sued their attorneys last week in San Francisco federal court.

The disgruntled players accuse the law firms of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips and McKool, Smith of failing to introduce during a 2008 trial a crucial piece of evidence.

The lawsuit also accused the law firms of excluding several retired players who should have been included in the official list of 2,062 former players who will share the settlement.

The case date backs to 2007 when the retired players sued the NFL Players Association.

The retired players accused the union of failing to actively pursue marketing deals on their behalf with video games, trading cards and others sports products. A jury agreed and ordered the union in 2008 to pay the players $28 million.

The case settled last year in exchange for the union dropping its appeal.

In the latest lawsuit, the disgruntled players say their lawyers failed to show the jury an e-mail chain between union officials and executives at Electronic Arts Inc., which makes the Madden NFL video games.

Part of the jury's damage figure included $7.1 million it fined the union for failing to share proceeds of its $35 million annual contract with the game maker with any retired players. The e-mail chain quoted officials discussing the need to obscure the images of retired players appearing in "vintage games" in the Madden game series.

U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup declined to let the jury see the e-mail chain because the players' lawyers hadn't laid the proper "foundation" of evidence to show the messages were relevant. He said EA wasn't on trial.

But the lawsuit alleges that the lawyers could have found a way to include the e-mail chain, which would have led to a bigger award.

"There was no good reason for this failure," the lawsuit stated.

Maxwell Blecher, the lawyer who filed the most recent lawsuit, declined to comment.

"Our law firms are very proud of the jury verdict we won for our clients as well as the settlement that was approved by the court," said Manatt lawyer Ron Katz. "We plan to defend ourselves in this case with the same integrity and determination we exhibited in the retired players' case."