MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams must wait a bit longer to find out if they will go to trial before the season begins.
A state judge said Wednesday that he will rule by Aug. 7 whether to put the Williamses' lawsuit against the NFL on hold, as the league has requested. The Williamses are fighting their pending suspensions for violating the NFL's policy against performance-enhancing drugs.
NFL attorney Dan Nash asked Hennepin County District Judge Gary Larson to stay the proceedings in state court while the federal 8th Circuit Court of Appeals considers other issues in the complicated case. The 8th Circuit has scheduled arguments in St. Paul for Aug. 18 and indicated that it could rule before the regular season begins a few weeks later.
The NFL wants to suspend the two defensive linemen for four games apiece, and hopes to do so at the start of the season, because they tested positive last summer for a banned diuretic that can mask the presence of steroids. The diuretic, bumetanide, was an unlisted ingredient in the weight-loss supplement StarCaps, which the Williamses acknowledge taking.
Court proceedings have shown that the NFL knew StarCaps contained the banned drug, and the Williamses contend the league wrongly withheld that information from players. The Williamses, who aren't related, aren't accused of taking steroids.
Peter Ginsberg, an attorney for the two players, told Larson they want the lawsuit to go to trial before the Vikings' season begins with a Sept. 13 game at Cleveland. If that's not possible, Ginsberg said, Larson should keep his restraining order against the suspensions in place, which would let the Williamses play out the season, and hold the trial afterward.
After Larson privately met with attorneys for both sides, Ginsberg said the judge told them he'd issue his ruling by Aug. 7 and probably earlier.
A federal judge dismissed several other parts of the case in May, but sent what was left to Larson to consider the Williamses' two remaining claims that the suspensions violate Minnesota employment laws. The NFL, the players' union and the Williamses are all appealing various parts of that ruling, and the 8th Circuit has said it will "take into consideration the need for an expedited decision based on the NFL season's starting date."
Nash told Larson that as much as the NFL wants to enforce the suspensions, he should delay further proceedings in state court until the federal appeals are resolved. Nash said there's a "very significant risk of conflicting rulings" and other legal problems if the judge doesn't wait. And Nash expressed optimism that the 8th Circuit might settle matters before the Vikings' season opener against the Browns.
But Ginsberg said it's hard to predict what the appeals court will do. And even if the 8th Circuit issues a decision before the season, he said, that might not be the end of proceedings in federal court. So he urged Larson to move forward and hear the lawsuit before the season.
"It's not only fundamentally unfair to keep this hanging over their heads, but it's fundamentally unfair to the (Vikings) organization as a whole," Ginsberg said.
Nash told the judge there's no reason the lawsuit couldn't go to trial during the season.
"The Williamses are no different from any normal employee and shouldn't receive special treatment," he said. "... Unless there's something special about football."