MLB Union Spent Big on Lawyers to Secure Deal That Saved Season

The Major League Baseball Players Association paid $3.5 million in legal fees last year, with Winston & Strawn taking the largest share, as the union sought to resolve a labor dispute threatening the 2022 baseball season.

Winston & Strawn, a longtime legal adviser to baseball players and their brethren in other sports, collected more than $2.2 million for handling grievance and salary arbitration work. The fees were more than a five-fold increase over the $386,100 the firm billed the New York-based union in 2020.

The bulk of the union’s 2021 legal work was tied to a collective bargaining agreement the league and players agreed upon last month. The dispute came after the league shortened the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic and a prior labor deal between both parties expired Dec. 1.

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh offered to help players and the league, whose commissioner is former Morgan, Lewis & Bockius labor litigator Robert Manfred Jr. Former partners at Proskauer Rose and Weil, Gotshal & Manges brokered the agreement that ended the 99-day lockout, allowing the season to start April 7.

Weil, the former law firm of the union’s current senior director of collective bargaining and legal Bruce Meyer, received nearly $43,700 last year to provide outside counsel on corporate matters. Jeffrey Kessler, Winston’s co-executive chairman, previously worked with Meyer at Weil.

Meyer himself was paid more than $1 million in total compensation, according to the LM-2 financial statement filed by the union March 31 with the Labor Department.

The union’s current leader is former player Anthony “Tony” Clark, who received nearly $2.3 million in total compensation last year. General counsel Ian Penny, who took on his role in 2017 and worked closely with Meyer on the most recent round of labor negotiations, was paid nearly $684,300.

Other large firms on the union’s payroll last year were Zuckerman Spaeder ($119,900); Sidley Austin ($71,000); Nixon Peabody ($11,000); and Norton Rose Fulbright ($7,800). Labor-focused firms Bredhoff & Kaiser and Cohen, Weiss & Simon received about $76,000 and $44,000, respectively.

Louis Melendez, a lawyer and former league executive who now serves as a consultant to the union, was paid nearly $122,000 to advise on international legal issues. Melendez, who spent almost three decades with the league prior to retiring in 2012, has been a longtime liaison to other baseball leagues abroad.

Union Legal Fees

The legal fees paid by the union in 2021—tallied by Bloomberg Law from line items in its LM-2 filing—only include disbursements for “legal counsel” given to law, public policy, or consulting firms.

The union also paid dozens of other service providers and arbitrators who advised on or presided over matters related to baseball’s unique form of dispute resolution between players and management for the league’s 30 franchises.

Jeff Fannell & Associates, a Bordentown, N.J.-based firm led by a former in-house lawyer for the union that handles salary arbitration work, was paid $230,600 last year.

Altshuler & Berzon, which has frequently represented players in litigation, received more than $201,000. The San Francisco-based firm also represents the MLB Umpires Association, which in a separate financial statement filed in January disclosed that it paid more than $313,200 to Altshuler & Berzon last year.

The union also paid almost $88,670 to Boston-based Hemenway & Barnes; $40,200 to Hackettstown, N.J.-based Margolin & Neuner; $24,500 to Washington’s Groom Law Group; $20,000 to Pittsburgh-based Reisinger Comber & Miller; $16,500 to Portland, Me.-based Global Sports Advocates LLC; $15,000 to Dominican lawyer Paola Mañón Taveras; and $6,600 to Coral Gables, Fla.-based Kurzban Kurzban Tetzeli & Pratt.

Name partner Ira Kurzban has previously provided immigration law counsel to the union, while Margolin & Neuner’s founding partner Diane Margolin is the widow of the union’s late executive director Michael Weiner.

Other expenditures included more than $76,800 paid to OSKR LLC, an Emeryville, Calif.-based outfit structured as a law firm that provides economic analysis for complex litigation, as well as more than $12,300 to management advisory firm FTI Consulting Inc. The union also paid almost $132,300 to Washington-based lobbying firm Elevate Government Affairs LLC to advise on legislative affairs.

The union’s longtime deputy general counsel, Matthew Nussbaum, received more than $657,100 last year. The union also paid more than $35,500 to former deputy general counsel Heather Chase, who now holds the same role at its for-profit arm MLB Players Inc., which within the past year has built out its own legal staff.

Other in-house lawyers on the union’s payroll include assistant general counsel Hiram Arnaud, Robert Guerra, Robert Lenaghan, and Jeffrey Perconte, as well as director of analytics and baseball operations Gregory Dreyfuss and associate counsel for baseball operations John “Jack” Sexton.

Zubair Q Britania

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