Minn. judge at center of power in NFL talks

The Post Sports Live crew breaks down the pending NFL labor negotiations and debates whether or not the lockout will cut into the 2011-12 season.
NFL owners and players are at odds over how to divvy up league revenue. Owners are pushing for an extra $1 billion off the top.
The Associated Press
Thursday, March 3, 2011; 2:43 PM

MINNEAPOLIS -- U.S. District Judge David S. Doty enjoys a good cigar and a good argument.

The man in the middle of the epic legal fight between NFL owners and players is an 81-year-old, take-no-bull ex-Marine with a reputation for presiding over a tight but genial courtroom.

For more than two decades, he has been at the forefront of collective bargaining for the nation's biggest and most popular sport, making him arguably as influential as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Patriots owner Robert Kraft or Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.

His rulings have rankled the owners, who at times have alleged favoritism toward the players, and the one he issued this week as the collective bargaining talks headed toward Thursday night's deadline may force the NFL to give up some $4 billion in TV revenue. But attorneys and others who know him well say Doty is one of the fairest judges around, one who operates a professional proceeding and doesn't let outside pressures - be they NFL heavyweights or rumors of a contract taken out on his life - influence his decisions.

"I can't imagine Judge Doty being influenced by any pressure in how he determines a case," former U.S. Assistant District Attorney Andrew Luger said. "If there was a picture in the Webster's dictionary next to judge, you would expect to see his face there."

Doty was the judge during the Freeman McNeil trial in 1992 when a jury ruled in the New York Jets running back's favor, agreeing that the NFL's Plan B free agency system violated antitrust laws. That paved the way for the landmark case in 1993 that allowed star defensive end Reggie White, among others, to become free agents, forever changing the way NFL owners do business.

"He has had a significant role in shaping that sport and making it the great national industry that it now is," said retired U.S. District Judge James Rosenbaum, who has known Doty for more than 35 years.

Rosenbaum said "it would be a cliche to say he's a cigar-chomping Marine. He loves a cigar because he sits down for 45 minutes to talk and get to the bottom of life's big issues."

Like Prince lyrics. Doty once found himself embroiled in a local case of sorts when the Minneapolis rock star was sued by his half-sister, who alleged that Prince used her lyrics in violation of copyright laws. After careful consideration, Doty dismissed the suit, saying Lorna Nelson's song, "What's Cooking in This Book," was not substantially similar to Prince's song, "U Got the Look."

Doty declined to be interviewed for this story as did representatives for the league and the players' union.

"If you come prepared and you conduct yourself in a professional manner, his courtroom is a wonderful place to be," Luger said. "He has never forgotten what it's like to be a trial lawyer. So he understands what trial lawyers need to do to represent their clients."

A lifelong resident of Minneapolis and a University of Minnesota graduate, Doty was a lawyer for 25 years prior to his appointment to the court. Former Sen. Dave Durenberger recommended Doty for the bench in 1987 and he was approved by President Reagan.

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