Billy Hunter’s wrongful-termination lawsuit against the NBA players union took a step forward on Wednesday, but his most salacious claims—specifically those lodged against former union president Derek Fisher—were thrown out by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge.
Both sides claimed a partial victory in the wake of the rulings by Judge Huey Cotton.
The judge denied a motion to dismiss Hunter’s core complaint: that the union owes him $10 million after firing him last February. That part of the suit will proceed. But Cotton dismissed 12 of the 14 claims against Fisher and all of the claims against Fisher’s former manager, Jamie Wior.
Hunter claimed that Fisher and Wior had conspired to oust him so that they could take control of the union themselves. Hunter also accused Fisher of secretly conspiring with NBA officials to cut a deal behind his back during the 2011 lockout.
In his ruling, Judge Cotton states that Hunter “provided no admissible competent evidence that Fisher actually did secretly negotiate.”
The judge also denied Hunter’s motion to subpoena other players, including Kobe Bryant, whom Hunter had accused of being tied to those purported negotiations.
Cotton also dismissed Hunter’s defamation claims against Fisher, but he postponed a decision on two remaining claims, involving breach of contract. Those rulings are expected next week.
The judge ordered Hunter to pay Fisher and Wior’s legal fees.
Andrew Kassof, the lawyer representing Fisher and Wior, said he and his clients were “thrilled with the court’s decision.”
“It has been clear that Mr. Hunter filed this case in retaliation to my clients’ efforts in protecting the NBPA and its players,” Kassof said in a statement. “Today's ruling establishes once again that my clients acted properly and in the organization's best interests.”
Christina Sarchio, the union’s lawyer, also hailed Wednesday’s ruling and said, “While the case is ongoing, we are confident that we will prevail.”
Player representatives voted unanimously to fire Hunter last February, following an outside audit that found him guilty of nepotism and abuse of union resources. The audit also determined that Hunter’s contract had never been properly approved and was therefore invalid—a conclusion that union officials cited in withholding the $10 million left on the contract.
In his ruling, Cotton writes that Hunter “has provided sufficient evidence…that there was not good cause to fire him and that the internal investigation was spurred by personal disputes between himself and Fisher.”
Hunter’s legal team must now refile the lawsuit, with a focus on the contract.
Hunter’s attorney, David Anderson, said, “We’re pleased that the judge's decision supports Mr. Hunter’s position, that his contract was valid, and allows his suit against the NBPA to continue.”
The ruling is expected to spur another attempt to negotiate a settlement of the contract. Previous negotiations broke down quickly. Union officials signaled in court Wednesday that they might opt for arbitration.
Union officials are still interviewing candidates for Hunter’s successor as executive director. Contrary to a recent report, the union has not yet settled on a group of finalists, and the process could drag into the summer.
Fisher’s term as union president ended last year. He was replaced by Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers. Wior no longer works for Fisher, but she was recently hired by the union.
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