NFL’s removal of St. Louis attorney seems ‘a little bit like sandbagging,’ Legal Roundtable says
Just three months before local governments’ case against Stan Kroenke and the NFL is set to go to trial, one of St. Louis’ lead attorneys has been ordered off the case — raising questions about the NFL’s timing in demanding his dismissal.
Bob Blitz of Blitz, Bardgett & Deutsch was previously the general counsel for the Edward Jones Dome authority and also co-chair of the task force that explored building a new stadium. He’s been one of the main litigators on local governments’ lawsuit against the parties that moved the Rams to Los Angeles.
Four years into the litigation, and just four months before the scheduled January 2022 trial date, Blitz’s adversaries announced they needed to call him as a witness. They filed a motion in September to disqualify him from the case. Last month, the judge acquiesced.
Attorneys participating in St. Louis on the Air’s Legal Roundtable on Monday agreed that the NFL’s request was late in coming.
“This is not a brand-new case,” noted Yinka Faleti, a former prosecutor and former litigator at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner. “And four months before trial, one side moves to strike a leading attorney from the case? Wow.”
Attorney Nicole Gorovsky of Gorovsky Law agreed, saying a “part of this that stinks to high heaven, which is the fact that the attorneys for the NFL let it go on this long. … That seems a little bit like sandbagging.”
The case is being handled by St. Louis Circuit Judge Christopher McGraugh, who has in recent months denied the Rams’ request to move the trial out of the region and ordered Kroenke and his fellow NFL owners to produce their financial records. McGraugh ruled that Blitz will likely need to be a witness at the trial and therefore couldn’t serve in an advocacy role during it.
But, McGraugh also ruled that the depositions taken by Blitz should stand. On that front, he called the NFL’s motion “untimely” and “an improper procedural weapon.”
The judge’s decision may have taken its inspiration from no less than Solomon, Faleti suggested.
“The judge has got to be very, very careful to not appear to be partial in any way, and not give any additional grounds for appeal, but not give any additional grounds,” Faleti noted. “So I think he's splitting the baby here, allowing them to disqualify the attorney, but also allowing the deposition testimony to come in.”
Dave Roland, litigation director for the Missouri Freedom Center, said he doesn’t believe the removal will prove pivotal in the trial.
“I don't think St. Louis is hurt as a result of this disqualification,” he said, “because it was not only Blitz’s game here. He had the assistance of other exceptionally qualified attorneys. And so the fact that Blitz is out of the picture doesn't mean that St. Louis doesn't have excellent legal representation.”
The attorneys discussed other matters related to the litigation over the Rams’ departure, including the NFL attorneys’ penchant for appealing to higher courts, the possibility of the NFL parties allowing the case to default and the importance of a Dec. 3 contempt hearing scheduled in the case.
The roundtable also dug into a host of other legal matters in the news, including a local professor’s possible legal claim against Missouri Gov. Mike Parson.
Shaji Khan, a professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, was quoted in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch story that drew the governor’s ire by pointing out a possible vulnerability in a state website. Parson referred the matter for possible criminal prosecution. Now Khan is demanding an apology. His attorney also asked the state to place a litigation hold on records around the incident, suggesting he may sue.
“To sue someone for defamation, what you have to have is some kind of public statement, and it has to be false, and it has to cause damage to a person's reputation,” Gorovsky said. “Those are the elements of a defamation case. And I think potentially he could have one.”
Roland and Faleti were less certain. Faleti noted that Parson did not actually mention Khan by name; Roland also suggested he could be considered a public figure for the limited circumstances of the Post-Dispatch story.
“I tell people defamation claims are among the most difficult to succeed on,” Roland noted.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.