The Score: NBA Union's Legal Bills Keep Piling Up

, The Am Law Daily


Billy Hunter
Billy Hunter

With a new National Basketball Association season set to begin on October 29, The Am Law Daily decided to tally the latest batch of legal fees amassed by the NBA players union in connection with the ouster of former executive director G. William “Billy” Hunter.

The National Basketball Players Association fired Hunter, a former federal prosecutor, in February after an internal investigation led by Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison raised concerns about his stewardship of the union during his 17-year stint at the top.

Though Paul Weiss declined to comment at the time about how much it was charging to conduct the Hunter inquiry, which resulted in a 230-page report, its fees for that work—as well as the NBPA's payments to other legal advisers—are detailed in the union's most recent LM-2 filing with the U.S. Department of Labor.

The filing covers the 12-month period for the NBPA's fiscal year from July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013. It shows that Paul Weiss was paid nearly $3.6 million for its internal union review and investigation. The NBPA's outside lawyers from Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe were paid $574,252 and are owed an additional $266,126, according to the LM-2.

Steptoe & Johnson, which continues to employ one of Hunter's daughters as special counsel, received $8,906 from the NBPA during the period in question and is owed $287,340, according to the filing. Hunter’s decision to retain Steptoe and the union's decision to put other Hunter relatives—such as daughter Robyn Hunter and daughter-in-law Megan Natsuko Inaba—on its payroll are among the examples of questionable conduct at the heart of the report prepared by Paul Weiss in connection with its investigation.

The LM-2 further shows that Inaba, an attorney and the NBPA's former director of special events, was paid $241,631 during the NBPA's last fiscal year, while Robyn Hunter earned $79,148 in her position as director of player benefits. Both left the union around the time of Hunter's dismissal earlier this year.

Hunter himself received nearly $2 million in compensation between July 1 of last year and his termination in February—down from the roughly $3 million he received during the union's previous full fiscal year. NBPA interim executive director Ronald Klempner, who previously served as the union's general counsel, earned a total of $306,305 during the most recent fiscal year. (The NBPA hired a headhunter last month to help it find a new permanent replacement for Hunter.)

Other in-house attorneys on the union payroll include counsel Sean Brandveen ($139,083) and David Kiefer ($130,198) and associate counsel Yared Alula ($119,948).

Dewey & LeBoeuf, the now-defunct firm that served as the NBPA’s outside counsel during many a collective bargaining negotiation through former global litigation head Jeffrey Kessler, received a paltry $6,462, according to the union's Labor Department filing.

Amid Dewey's collapse, Kessler took a 60-plus team of lawyers to Winston & Strawn, where he now chairs the firm’s antitrust group and coheads its sports law practice. The LM-2 shows that Winston has picked up where Dewey left off, billing the NBPA for $193,920 over the past year.

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