UPDATE: 2/16/2013, 6:00 p.m. EDT. Following the publication of this story, the NBPA voted unanimously to replace Billy Hunter as executive director of the union, according to The Associated Press.
G. William Hunterthe embattled executive director of the National Basketball Players Association placed on an indefinite paid leave amid accusations of nepotism and mismanagementhas hired Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan to challenge allegations leveled against him in a $5 million independent report released last month by Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.
While not accusing Hunter of criminal wrongdoing, the 229-page Paul Weiss report claims he committed ethical lapses and was not transparent when conducting certain NBPA business during his tenure atop the union. In the wake of the Paul Weiss probe the New Yorkbased NBPA has retained Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe with an eye toward overhauling its operations, according to our previous reports. The move may also set the stage for Hunter's permanent removal from a post he has held since 1996.
Players representing each of the NBA's 30 teams are scheduled to attend an NBPA meeting hosted by union president and former player Derek Fisher on Saturday afternoon. The session has been called to brief players on the Paul Weiss report, which the firm's lawyers prepared after interviewing some three dozen individuals and sifting through thousands of pages of emails and financial records. A source familiar with the matter says that 100 people are expected to attend the meeting, and that Hunter's future with the NBPA will be a key topic of discussion.
Hunter needs the support of two-thirds of the 30 team player representatives to hold on to his job. While he won't be in Houston to defend himself in personthose close to the 70-year-old former federal prosecutor say they've been told he isn't welcome at the players' meetinghis lawyers went on the offensive late this week in a bid to turn the tide back in their client's favor.
As part of that effort, Hunter's legal team, which besides Newark-based solo practitioners Thomas Ashley and Randy Davenport now includes Quinn Emanuel head of complex litigation Michael Carlinsky and of counsel Corey Worcester in New York, set up a website aimed at rebutting many of the key allegations contained in the Paul Weiss report. Among the materials posted on the site: a 21-page preliminary response to the report, a three-page executive summary, supplemental exhibits, and a 15-slide PowerPoint presentation.
Not surprisingly, Hunter's four-pronged defense takes issue with several of the findings arrived at by the team of Paul Weiss investigators, which was led by litigation department cochair Theodore "Ted" Wells Jr., partner David Brown, and associate Amy Gold. Hunter notes, for example, the NBPA's lack of both an antinepotism policyHunter himself has acknowledged hiring relatives for in-house jobs and steering union business to firms that employed his son and daughterand a policy barring employees from being paid for cashing out unused vacation time.
Hunter's lawyers referred all requests for comment Friday to statements posted on the newly launched website. As part of his defense, Hunter and his legal team claim his decision to hire outside legal and financial advisers benefited the NBPA's bottom line. Hunter's camp insists that many of the investments made on his watch generated profits for the union, which he says went from being $5 million in debt at the time he took over in the late nineties to having net assets of $80 million today. (The union's latest LM-2 filing with the U.S. Department of Labor shows it had net assets of $78.7 million at the end of the one year prior to June 30, 2012, a period during which Hunter was paid nearly $3.2 million.)
Hunter's legal team also notes that Paul Weiss's probe failed to find a single example of Hunter breaking the law. They also scoff at the report's claim that Hunter can be dismissed without financial penalty to the union because he failed to obtain proper approval for his five-year, $15 million contract extension in 2010.
"[The Paul Weiss report] makes a hyper-technical argument that [Hunter] failed to 'check a box' by getting 2/3 of the Board of Player Representatives to approve the 2010 contract extension," states Quinn Emanuel's Worcester. "Critically, it concedes that [Fisher] signed the contract and that the Executive Committee approved the contract. That is consistent with how the previous contract extensions were done. And under Delaware law, that is more than enough." (The NBPA is incorporated in Delaware.)
Hunter's legal team also takes aim at other technicalities invoked by Paul Weisswhose lawyers have engaged in their fair share of litigation battles with Quinn Emanuelas insufficient to scuttle his current contract. They also decry Hunter's inability to defend himself at Saturday's NBPA meeting and obliquely raise the specter of litigation if the union's player representatives vote to fire their client for cause this weekend.