Jonathan Vilma files court motion

  • John Barr [ARCHIVE]
  • ESPN | December 15, 2012

NEW ORLEANS -- New court filings in Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma's defamation lawsuit against NFL commissioner Roger Goodell portray one of Vilma's chief accusers in the league's bounty investigation, former Saints defensive assistant coach Mike Cerullo, as unstable.

According to the motion, filed Friday morning in federal court in New Orleans, "the Saints were so concerned about Cerullo's stability that, when Cerullo was terminated, Saints head coach Sean Payton was forced to obtain police protection at his house for fear that Cerullo would seek some type of retribution."

Vilma's attorney, Peter Ginsberg, declined to comment on the motion except to say that his claim Payton sought police protection is based on testimony presented during the recent appeals hearings before former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt testified before Tagliabue that Cerullo was fired for a series of unexplained absences and lies, according to transcripts of the hearings reviewed by ESPN.

Vitt described Payton as being so concerned about Cerullo retaliating for his firing that he obtained police protection for his family while Payton attended league meetings out of town.

"It is well known in the legal community that Mr. Ginsberg has been sanctioned for what a federal appeals court characterized as his 'egregious conduct in grossly mischaracterizing the facts' and his 'bad faith.' No one should be surprised that he is at it again," said Paul Shechtman, Cerullo's attorney, when asked about the most recent court filing.

Shechtman was referring to sanctions Ginsberg faced as part of his role in a Florida bankruptcy case. In 2009, a federal appeals court upheld a $372,000 sanction against Ginsberg and banned him from practicing bankruptcy law in much of Florida.

Ginsberg responded to Shechtman's statement by saying: "I am proud of the work I have done for over 25 years and suggest that Mr. Cerullo and his counsel (who, not coincidentally, is being paid for by the NFL and not by Mr. Cerullo) keep focused on the matter at hand."

Shechtman confirmed to ESPN that the NFL is paying for Cerullo's attorney fees.

Cerullo declined to comment about Friday's court filing.

A spokesperson for the Mandeville, La., Police Department did not respond to a request for comment about whether Payton ever sought police protection. At the time of Cerullo's firing, Payton lived in a gated community in Mandeville.

Vilma's most recent court filing comes one day after Cerullo made his first public comments on the bounty scandal in a letter to Tagliabue.

"I regret that some of the players facing discipline chose to attack me and Coach (Gregg) Williams for coming forward. But what is worse is that others, including lawyers, knowingly spoke lies and continue to do so," Cerullo wrote in his letter to Tagliabue.

On Tuesday, Tagliabue vacated the suspensions of Vilma and the other current and former Saints players facing league penalties for their roles in the scandal -- linebacker Scott Fujita and defensive ends Will Smith and Anthony Hargrove.

Friday's court filing is aimed at convincing Judge Helen G. Berrigan to reject a previous motion by Goodell's attorneys to dismiss Vilma's defamation lawsuit.

In the filing, Ginsberg details apparent inconsistencies in the information Cerullo provided NFL investigators, particularly regarding one of the most damning allegations --- that Vilma "held up $10,000 in cash high above his head, and pledged the money to any teammate who knocked Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner" out of a divisional playoff game on Jan. 16, 2010.

For more than two months before he disciplined Vilma, Goodell made at least four references to the alleged bounty on Warner, according to the court documents, and yet the NFL omitted it from materials presented to Tagliabue.

"Now, there can no longer be any doubt that Goodell acted with malice and wanton disregard and without any CBA-ordained authority in making this quasi-criminal accusation against Vilma,'' the filing says.

The league relied instead on allegations Vilma offered a $10,000 bounty on Vikings quarterback Brett Favre the next week before the NFC Championship Game.

According to Vilma's latest filing, "Mike Cerullo is the only person who has ever alleged there was any type of bounty on Warner, as the Tagliabue hearings made clear. Goodell's claim that 'multiple independent sources' contended Vilma offered a bounty on Warner was simply false."

Friday's court filing goes on to say that "Cerullo was fired for his incompetence and repeated and material lies to the Saints, which cause him to miss several weeks of the 2009 season."

In his letter to Tagliabue on Thursday, Cerullo defended his work record with the Saints.

"It has been said that I 'disappeared' from work during the 2009-2010 season, that my performance ratings were poor," Cerullo wrote to Tagliabue. "I never missed work, always received high performance ratings."

While an NFL spokesman spokesman declined to comment about Friday's court filing, in mid-September the NFL released the following statement defending Cerullo's credibility:

"Mike Cerullo should be commended for coming forward. The information and detail he provided was credible and has since been confirmed in numerous respects both by other witnesses and by supporting documents. It is unfortunate that some have sought to unfairly attack his integrity rather than give attention to the substance of his declaration."

John Barr is a reporter in ESPN's Enterprise Unit and can be reached at jbarr-espn@hotmail.com. Information from ESPN's Ed Werder was used in this report.

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