NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma is suing the NFL in federal court, claiming Commissioner Roger Goodell failed to make a timely appeal ruling regarding Vilma's season-long suspension in connection with the league's bounty investigation.
The lawsuit filed Saturday night in U.S. District Court in New Orleans also asks for a temporary restraining order to allow Vilma to continue working if Goodell upholds the suspension.
The suit contends Goodell has undermined "the integrity of the NFL and the Commissioner's office" by handing down punishments to Vilma and others based on evidence that is either flawed or cannot be substantiated.
It is the second lawsuit Vilma has filed in the matter. The first, filed in May and also in federal court in New Orleans, seeks unspecified damages from Goodell for defamation of character.
In his latest filing, Vilma claims that the NFL's collective bargaining agreement required Goodell to rule as soon as was practical following a June 18 appeal hearing. Because players, in protest, declined to present new evidence or argue their case in the hearing, Goodell should have been able to rule by June 25, the first business day after the record was closed in the matter, the lawsuit argues.
"We have not yet had an opportunity to review Mr. Vilma's improper effort to litigate a matter that is committed to a collectively bargained process," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. "There is no basis for asking a federal court to substitute its judgment for the procedures agreed upon by the NFL and NFLPA, procedures that have been in place, and have served the game well, for decades."
In his latest attack on the NFL's handling of the bounty probe, Vilma contends punished players have only been able to see less than 1 percent of 50,000 pages of documents the league said it has compiled. His suit also claims that the few key pieces of evidence the league shared are flawed, including printed reproductions of handwritten notes.
"The NFL's alteration of other documents evidences that the NFL cannot substantiate the suspension, and undermines the integrity of the process," Vilma's lawsuit states.
The lawsuit seeks to discredit a key piece of evidence outlining bounty pledges from before the NFC championship game against Minnesota in January 2010, and also takes aim at fired assistant coach Mike Cerullo, who, according to Vilma, produced the document for the league.
Cerullo had a vendetta against the Saints after his firing following the 2009 season, and resented that the Super Bowl ring he received had been made with imitation (cubic zirconia) diamonds, the lawsuit contends.
The lawsuit claims Cerullo created the document "well after the 2009 NFC Championship game and in an effort to gain revenge against the Saints."
The suit further contends that a "close associate" of Cerullo has confirmed that Cerullo retracted his previous claims about the bounty program "in a communication directly with Goodell that occurred in April 2012."
The lawsuit notes that Goodell has not shared notes from interviews with Cerullo. Goodell also did not produce Cerullo as a witness at the appeal hearing or acknowledge Cerullo's retraction.
However, Aiello has denied that key witnesses in the bounty probe have retracted statements.
Aiello also has said the NFL has not issued any gag orders. Vilma's latest lawsuit, however, claims the NFL has ordered suspended former Saints defensive coordinator Greg Williams not to speak with suspended Saints players, coaches or officials as a condition for his reinstatement.
The NFL has said that Williams, who is suspended indefinitely, organized a bounty system that offered cash for hits that injured opponents, and which ran during his three seasons as defensive coordinator in New Orleans from 2009-11.
A close friend and associate of Williams, who was present for at least one discussion Williams had with Goodell, contends Williams never acknowledged the existence of a bounty program, Vilma's lawsuit said.
Williams' associate also contends that Williams has no information corroborating NFL findings that Vilma offered a $10,000 bounty for knocking quarterbacks Kurt Warner or Brett Favre out of 2009-10 playoff games.
The same associate confirmed that Goodell ordered Williams not to speak about the bounty matter with other punished individuals, the lawsuit said.