The attorney representing Washington Redskins General Manager Charley Casserly is demanding that the team pay all of Casserly's legal bills stemming from the lawsuit brought by failed Redskins bidder Howard Milstein, but has received no such commitment thus far, sources close to the situation said yesterday.
Prominent Washington attorney Robert S. Bennett has received no reply to his demand made in letters sent recently to representatives of the Jack Kent Cooke estate and incoming owner Daniel M. Snyder, sources said.
The wrangling comes as Snyder and his partners prepare to take official control of the team, and as Casserly awaits word on his future with the Redskins. The Snyder group hopes to apply the finishing touches to its $800 million purchase of the Redskins and Jack Kent Cooke Stadium today or Monday, and sources have said that Casserly may have to accept a diminution in his powers as part of a front-office reorganization if he wants to remain the team's general manager.
Snyder was Milstein's partner in a failed bid. When Milstein withdrew from the process in April after it became clear his bid would not be approved, Snyder formed his own group.
Milstein's lawsuit alleges that former team president John Kent Cooke and Casserly worked against the Milstein bid to ensure that it would not receive the 24 votes among the 31 NFL teams necessary for ratification. Cooke also was a bidder for the franchise formerly owned by his father, and there were indications at the time that Milstein likely would fire Casserly if he became the team's owner.
Cooke and Casserly have denied the charges, and Casserly has called the lawsuit "mean-spirited."
According to sources familiar with Bennett's letters to the trustees for the estate and the Snyder group, Bennett wrote that the team has a legal and moral obligation to pay Casserly's legal bills related to the Milstein lawsuit. Neither group has given Bennett an official response, sources said.
The Redskins' new owners, not the trustees, will have to make the decision about whether to pay Casserly's legal bills after they close on their deal with the estate. According to sources, the team's bylaws would allow Casserly to be advanced the money for his defense, but the Redskins could seek to have that money returned if it ultimately is determined legally that Casserly is not entitled to such indemnification.
Casserly referred questions on the matter to Bennett, who declined to comment. Tom McCormick, an attorney for the Snyder group, and Richard Cass, an attorney for the estate, also declined to comment. Cooke was not available to comment.
Casserly and Bennett must file a response next week to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court by Milstein on May 17. The lawsuit accuses Casserly and Cooke of improperly undermining Milstein's bid for the team during the NFL approval process, and seeks unspecified damages.
Associates of Casserly said yesterday they are hopeful the NFL will agree to pay Casserly's legal bills if the Redskins refuse, but sources said Bennett has not made any inquiries with league officials. Neither the Redskins nor the NFL is named as a defendant in Milstein's lawsuit.
The Redskins' new owners might be receptive to Bennett's request but the members of the Snyder group have been focused recently on closing the purchase of the team from the estate and have not made a careful review of Bennett's arguments yet, sources said.
Bennett argues in the letter that the Redskins are legally obligated to pay Casserly's legal bills. Several attorneys familiar with the laws relevant to the matter said yesterday that depends upon whether it's determined that Casserly was acting as an employee of the Redskins when he took the actions that resulted in the lawsuit. If it is determined that Casserly was acting as an employee of the team, the Redskins would be obligated to pay. If it's determined that Casserly was acting on his own, the Redskins would not have to pay.
Joseph Hassett, an attorney for Cooke, declined to comment when asked whether Cooke has sought or will seek to have the team pay his legal bills relating to the Milstein lawsuit.
Legal experts said Cooke's recent move to establish residency in Bermuda does not absolve him of potential liability from the Milstein lawsuit, but it does place another hurdle before the plaintiff.
"It absolutely does not change the merits of the case or the possibilities of liability," said Professor John B. Corr, who teaches civil procedure at American University School of Law. "It could make enforcing the judgment more difficult if Cooke had previously removed his assets to Bermuda because you would be asking a non-American court to enforce an American judgment. But more difficult doesn't mean impossible."
Staff writer Thomas Heath contributed to this report.