November 29, 2021

O'Melveny's suspicious "independent investigation" prompts a coordinated response

       One aspect of the frivolous and entertaining world of sports is that owners will occasionally fire the team’s manager. George Steinbrenner was the archetype of such an owner, firing dozens of managers over his 30+ year tenure. He once changed managers three times in a season. But they were honest firings. As far as I know, the owners didn't try to swindle the manager out of severance payments they were entitled to under their contract. Well, according to reports, O’Melveny may have come up with a scheme to change that, prompting a reaction from National Basketball Association (“NBA”) general managers.

       This all started with O’Melveny commencing a “fair” and “independent" investigation for Portland Trailblazers owner Jody Allen. The investigation will determine whether General Manager Neil Olshey bullied and intimidated staff members. (Yes, O’Melveny is going to judge this -- the firm whose principals praised torture and reportedly threatened rape victims and scientists. If I could tell you all the examples of bullying and intimidation that I heard of or saw at O’Melveny . . ..) O'Melveny will "submit its findings to team owner Jody Allen shortly, and a decision on Olshey’s future will be determined soon after."

       Of course, in reality, the investigation may not be fair or independent. As I explained here, these investigations violate the most fundamental precept of the legal system -- that each side be represented by their own lawyer, who argue before an independent judge. In fact, if you want to know how O'Melveny will rule in an independent investigation, you may wish to figure out who in the organization pushed to hire them, and what that person wants. You may be surprised by how often this technique predicts the conclusions in O'Melveny's report.

       And the NBA's general managers figured out what was going on – that Ms. Allen seems to be looking for a way to fire Mr. Olshey “for cause,” so as to screw him out of the termination payments he is due. As reported by Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne, “many top team basketball executives are fearful Portland is creating a blueprint for other ownership groups to invoke firing for cause and sidestep payment on contracts.”

       The general managers responded by lawyering up themselves. They "are working to finalize the formation of a professional association that would collectively support executives with access to legal defense funds, lawyer referrals and public relations professionals[.]"

       So what was once a relatively gentlemanly relationship between owner and general manager is now a morass of scheming and machinations, with lawyers billing by the hour to cherry-pick and spin for their side. And O'Melveny is quite proud of what they've done here. They advertised this story on their website; presumably gratified by the new revenue stream they've helped to create (and O'Melveny is milking this for all the billable hours they can get; they've already decided that they need to expand and extend the investigation past its original due date.)

       [Addendum: O'Melveny's report concluded that Mr. Olshey violated the Portland Trail Blazers' "Code of Conduct," giving Ms. Allen the justification she needed to terminate Mr. Olshey's employment. The article doesn't say whether Portland also used O'Melveny's report to deny Mr. Olshey's termination payments (but I'm guessing they did.)]
O'Melveny, OMM, Apalla Chopra, white collar practice