After more than six hours of talks, the teens agreed to drop the lawsuit. Two days later, they walked together in the royalty court.
“The whole day I will look back on with such gratitude, the way she approached it,” said Dennis Carlson, superintendent of the Anoka-Hennepin schools, who participated in the settlement conference in the largely vacant downtown courthouse. “Dignity and grace come to mind.”
Now Nelson is in charge of an equally incendiary and much larger fight: the National Football League players’ lawsuit against the NFL, which accuses the league, among other things, of illegally locking players out of team facilities. Whether Nelson will urge or attempt to force NFL players and owners to settle their emotionally charged conflict, which centers on how to divide $9.3 billion in annual revenue, remains to be seen.
But as an April 6 hearing in her St. Paul courtroom approaches, Nelson wields substantial power over the fate of the nation’s most popular sport, with her first ruling likely to determine how soon players get back on the field and under what conditions.
The case landed in front of Nelson, 58, who earned a reputation as a master mediator during a decade as a U.S. magistrate judge, after collective bargaining talks collapsed March 11. That day, the players dissolved their union so they could file a class-action suit alleging a number of anti-trust violations by the NFL. The owners locked out the players the next day.
The crux of the complex case is whether the league’s lockout represents an appropriate labor tactic or an anti-trust law violation.
“How Judge Nelson decides the fundamental issue, which is whether or not to enjoin the lockout, is going to affect enormously the collective bargaining leverage on both sides,” said Gary Roberts, the dean of the Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis. “However she rules is going to set the table for negotiations that, I’m convinced, will lead to an agreement sometime in late summer.”
The players will score a major victory if Nelson grants their request for a preliminary injunction to lift the lockout. They could return to work while the owners, who would almost surely appeal, would confront the possibility of more grim anti-trust rulings from her.
The owners’ position, meantime, would be strengthened by an extended lockout, which could destroy players’ morale as their wallets grow lighter. The lockout would remain in place if Nelson decides in favor of the owners or abides by an NFL request to defer to the National Labor Relations Board.