The leadership crisis roiling the National Basketball Players Association pulled in another Am Law 100 firm Thursday when the union hired Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.
Orrick enters the fray on the heels of an investigation by Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison that resulted in NBPA executive director G. William Hunter being placed on an indefinite paid leave amid accusations that his stewardship of the union was marked by nepotism and mismanagement.
The NBPA's interim executive committee and advisory committee have retained Orrick commercial litigation partner Christina Sarchio and employment litigation partner Lynne Hermle to advise the union on legal and business matters related to the Paul Weiss probe, which was launched in April 2012 after the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan and the U.S. Department of Labor issued subpoenas to the NBPA.
An Orrick spokeswoman said in a statement sent to The Am Law Daily that Sarchio and Hermle are leading a team of lawyers from the firm encompassing several practice areas that is advising the New Yorkbased NBPA on various potential reforms. The firm declined to comment further about its work for the union.
Hermle, a noted Silicon Valleybased employment litigator who famously once made an opposing attorney throw up repeatedly by winning a series of pretrial motions, has been representing Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers in a high-profile sex discrimination suit filed against the venture capital firm last year by investment partner Ellen Pao, a former Cravath, Swaine & Moore associate. (Hermle and San Franciscobased Kleiner Perkins are seeking to move Pao's suit to arbitration, according to a report by sibling publication The Recorder.)
In an interview with The New York Times published Thursday, Hunter and his attorney, Newark-based criminal defense lawyer Thomas Ashley, pledged to exercise all their options to enforce the contract extension Hunter signed in 2010 under which he is to be paid $10.5 million through 2016. (Labor Department filings by the NBPA show that Hunter was paid nearly $3.2 million for his services in the period between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012.)
Fulfilling that vow could prove difficult, however, given that the 469-page Paul Weiss report indicates that the extension is not binding because the union never officially approved it. Indeed, three sources familiar with the ongoing union machinations told The Am Law Daily Thursday that the end of Hunter's tenure with the organization he began leading in 1996 may well be at hand. NBA players are scheduled to meet and discuss his fate during NBA All-Star Weekend, which is set to take place in Houston from February 1517.
The Am Law Daily reported last month that the Paul Weiss probe had absolved Hunter, a former federal prosecutor, of illegal activity. But the firm's report also raised serious questions about such matters as $1.3 million in payments Hunter received for unused vacation time and his hiring of outside firms for NBPA business that employed some of his relatives, both of which cast doubt on Hunter's ability to continue leading the union.
Even before the latest controversy erupted, Hunter had already clashed with NBPA president Derek Fisher during the five-month NBA lockout brought on by contentious collective bargaining negotiations with league management. The lockout ended in November 2011, but not before players held a meeting with DeMaurice Smith, a former partner at Latham & Watkins and Patton Boggs who now serves as executive director of the National Football League Players Association.
At the time, Smith was fresh off his own labor impasse, with NFL players and owners having reached a new collective bargaining deal of their own in late July 2011 to end a nearly five-month lockout. Smith's former firms, Latham and Patton Boggs, served as key legal advisers to the NFLPA during that process, reaping roughly $4 million collectively in fees during the period between March 1, 2010, and February 28, 2011, according to our previous reports.