A-Rod's Legal Strikeout Provides Arbitration Insights

, Corporate Counsel

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Alex Rodriguez
Alex Rodriguez

The most recent chapter in the saga of New York Yankees third-baseman and alleged performance enhancing drug user Alex Rodriguez came to an end on Jan. 11, when the arbitrator in his disciplinary case against Major League Baseball announced that “A-Rod” would be suspended for the entirety of the 2014 baseball season and the playoffs.

The decision—the longest drug-related suspension issued in major league history—certainly doesn’t look like a win for Rodriguez, who has already become something of a villain in the eyes of sports fans due to doping accusations. After the three-person arbitration panel, led by Fredric Horowitz, issued its decision, Rodriguez declared he would take his fight into extra innings—asking a court for an injunctive relief to prevent the suspension.

So, will this latest play from Rodriguez and his legal team work? Joseph Farelli, a partner at law firm Pitta & Giblin with extensive experience representing both employers and unions in arbitration, says chances of an injunction working aren’t so good.

Farelli told CorpCounsel.com that as part of his request, Rodriguez would have to prove that his case would succeed on the merits, which would be pretty difficult, as judges typically don’t like to throw out arbitrators’ decisions. “He’d have to have concrete evidence that the arbitrator was biased against him,” Farelli said, adding that there’s no evidence in the case that Horowitz, an arbitrator Farelli has appeared before and sees as honest and fair, would suffer such a lapse. Rodriguez could also try to prove that Horowitz ignored the letter of the law in his decision, but that strategy also seems unlikely to succeed.

With chances of appealing the arbitration decision looking slim, Rodriguez will have time to think about what went wrong in an arbitration process that has been something of a media circus, complete with confessions on TV news program "60 Minutes" and walkout from A-Rod, who ranted to the press and criticized the arbitration process.

Farelli said that as an attorney involved in arbitration, proceedings are supposed to be confidential, and cases are rarely played out so publicly. “What I say could be taken out of context, twisted and distorted—and make it back to the arbitrator,” he said. He explained that in both the recently settled arbitration and a related lawsuit Rodriguez has against Major League Baseball, the focus has been on the court of public opinion. The approach, in Farelli’s opinion, has “more to do with publicity than legal strategy.”

He also said that Rodriguez’s choice in attorneys—his team was led by criminal defense lawyer Joseph Tacopina—might not have been ideal, given the circumstances. “I would not have hired a criminal attorney to take care of a disciplinary labor arbitration,” he explained.

Although it’s impossible to know what went on in conversation between Rodriguez, Tacopina and the others, Farelli said that the Rodriguez case serves as a good reminder for attorneys that it’s advisable to remain realistic about what arbitration can accomplish for a client, particularly when the evidence against them is piled high. If it’s possible to negotiate a deal, that may be the best that a defendant in a difficult position can accomplish.

This goes for in-house attorneys as well: “As an in-house counsel you have to make a frank assessment of your case at every step in the proceeding, because things will change,” he said.

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