When the NFL concussion settlement was announced nearly four months ago, the more than 4,500 players who had sued the league were assured that no part of the $765 million deal would go to lawyers.
But a recent dispute involving the players' lead negotiator confirms that not only was that statement misleading, some lawyers stand to receive multiple paydays, according to documents and emails obtained by "Outside the Lines."
The development comes as the settlement drags into its 16th week, still without preliminary approval from the federal judge overseeing the case. And while "Outside the Lines" has learned that preliminary approval could come soon, interviews with attorneys and former players find growing discontent on multiple fronts, including the unusually long delay delivering the case to the judge and a veil of secrecy that continues to shield basic information from the plaintiffs.
The latest concerns are that negotiators may reward themselves at the expense of injured athletes.
The dispute arose when Christopher Seeger, the players' lead negotiator, tried to arrange an agreement to receive a 10 percent cut of any money awarded to a 79-year-old former NFL player, Billy Kinard. Seeger quickly withdrew the proposal after the player's attorney challenged it by calling the arrangement "most troubling" and suggesting that Seeger was inappropriately using his position to benefit financially.
Seeger is among a select group of attorneys on the plaintiffs' executive committee -- lawyers appointed by the judge to negotiate with the NFL. His firm, Seeger Weiss LLP, is in line to receive a significant portion of a "common fund" paid for by the league and specifically created to cover legal fees. That fund could exceed $100 million and is apart from the $765 million announced in August.
The creation of the fund raised concerns that some lawyers would engage in "double-dipping" -- drawing money from both the common fund and separate fee agreements and potentially siphoning millions of dollars from the pool of money allotted to injured players.
Early Monday afternoon, "Outside the Lines" reported that legal experts said the issue was likely to draw the attention of federal judge Anita Brody. A few hours later, Brody issued an order stating she had appointed a special master to assist her in evaluating the "financial aspects" of the proposed settlement. She said the "appointment is warranted by the expected financial complexity of the proposed settlement."
Brody wrote that the special master's tasks "will include, but are not limited to, financial analysis of any agreements reached by counsel to the parties."
"We are pleased that Judge Brody has appointed Mr. Golkin as Special Master and we look forward to working with him, and continuing to work with the Court, as we seek prompt preliminary approval of the settlement agreement," Seeger and lead NFL attorney Brad Karp said in a joint statement Monday night. "We will proceed on any schedule that the Court directs."
The case involving Kinard underscores one of the settlement's complexities. The former player's lawyer, Sam Franklin, said that after reviewing the fee agreement he became worried that Seeger Weiss, as lead counsel, was trying to extract money from Kinard on top of what the firm would receive from the common fund.