NFL: Vikings hire lawyer in Incognito case to assist with Kluwe talks
MINNEAPOLIS — The Vikings have hired criminal attorney Ted Wells, who worked with the NFL on the Miami Dolphins’ bullying case, to assist with settlement talks with former punter Chris Kluwe.
The Vikings announced Tuesday that they have retained Wells and Roberta Kaplan; the Pioneer Press had reported the Wells news hours earlier.
Wells was hired by the NFL in November to prepare a report on claims Jonathan Martin had been bullied on the Dolphins by one-time teammate Richie Incognito. In his report, released Feb. 14, Wells concluded there was a “pattern of harassment.”
Kaplan successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 that a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act violated the U.S. Constitution by barring legally married same-sex couples from enjoying benefits of marriage conferred under federal law.
In January, Kluwe accused the Vikings of releasing him in May 2013 because of his outspoken views on same-sex marriage. He also brought to light a homophobic remark by Minnesota special teams coordinator Mike Priefer that this month got Priefer suspended for three games.
A six-month investigation commissioned by the Vikings concluded Kluwe was released for football-only reasons.
Kluwe and his attorney, Clayton Halunen, had planned to file a lawsuit against the Vikings on Wednesday but put that off to continue negotiating a settlement with the team.
“We pride ourselves on the workplace environment that we have created, centered on diversity, tolerance and respect,” Kevin Warren, Vikings executive vice president of legal affairs, said in a statement, adding that Wells and Kaplan have been retained because of the Vikings having “great sensitivity to the issues raised by’’ Kluwe and Halunen.
Kaplan wrote in a statement to the Pioneer Press that she and Wells support the Vikings’ stance and hope to avoid litigation.
“While our hope is to take a fresh look and assist the Vikings in reaching a resolution with Mr. Kluwe short of litigation, if that is not possible, we will fully defend the Vikings in court,’’ Kaplan wrote.
The Vikings also officially announced Tuesday having retained Minneapolis-based attorney Joseph Anthony to assist in the case, although his inclusion had been known since last week. Anthony told the Pioneer Press on Tuesday morning that he had been planning to meet with the Vikings later in the day regarding the case.
In previous negotiations, Kluwe told the Vikings he wanted them to donate $1 million to LGBT groups; the Vikings countered with $100,000. He and Halunen also want the entire 150-page investigative report released to the public. Instead, a 29-page summary was released July 18.
Kluwe declined to comment. Halunen said settlement talks with the Vikings will resume Aug. 6.
Kaplan said in her statement that she and Wells have reviewed the investigation’s findings.
“(Wells and Kaplan) firmly believe that the Vikings have worked incredibly hard to achieve an environment of tolerance within the team and organization,’’ she wrote. “While there can be no question that Ted and I are sensitive to issues of diversity and inclusion, here, there is no evidence to suggest that Mr. Kluwe was released from the Vikings for any reason other than his skills as a punter.
“There also was no effort to unfairly discourage his activism while he was a member of the Vikings. To the contrary, it was encouraged by the owners of the Vikings.’’
Halunen did not express confidence that Wells and Kaplan would be receptive to having the full report made public.
“What are (the Vikings) hiding?” Halunen said. “Clearly, (Wells and Kaplan) are only being retained to try to further prevent this report from being released. They can do what they want. This is all about maneuvering. ... It’s very suspicious.
“We want the full report to be released. We have made it very clear that that’s an absolute. The only reason I can think of that they bring in (Wells and Kaplan) is trying to prevent that from happening.”
There is an online petition for the release of the full report at change.org, which has gathered 35,000 signatures. On Friday, 17 Minnesota legislators from the House and Senate wrote an open letter to Vikings owner Zygi Wilf asking for the full report to be released and criticizing Priefer’s suspension as inadequate.
Wells long has been well known in legal circles, but he became familiar to sports fans when he was hired by the NFL to put out the report on bullying on the Dolphins.
“(Wells and Kaplan are) going to do what the (Vikings) organization tells them to do, who is paying their bills,” Halunen said. “In (the Dolphins report), I believe it was the NFL who paid the bill. And the NFL must have authorized release (of a report made public). Here, the Vikings are paying the bills, and the Vikings have not authorized release. So there’s going to be marching orders (from the Vikings) to keep the report out of the public.”
Wells has been involved in a number of high-profile cases. He represented Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr., who was convicted in 2007 in a CIA leak investigation and later had his 30-month prison sentence commuted by President George W. Bush.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.