Walsh, NFL are close to an agreement

Ex-Patriots employee would break silence

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Bob Hohler
Globe Staff / March 10, 2008

Matt Walsh is close to breaking his silence on Spygate.

Five weeks after Walsh, a former video assistant for the Patriots, suggested in published reports that he possessed damaging information about the team's videotaping practices, his lawyer and the NFL last night were on the verge of agreeing to the terms of his coming forward, according to a person close to the talks.

The breakthrough follows a period last month when the sides were deadlocked and blaming each other for making unreasonable demands. Walsh is considered crucial to the NFL completing its investigation into the Patriots using their video crew to steal opponents' signals.

"In the last seven days, the lawyers have had intensive and constructive discussions regarding some new and promising approaches," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in a prepared statement. "They have made substantial progress toward an agreement that will allow Mr. Walsh to be interviewed. Both sides are optimistic that any remaining issues can be addressed successfully and they are committed to reaching a full agreement as promptly as possible."

Walsh is also a central figure in inquiries by Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and lawyers who have filed class-action suits against the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick in Louisiana and New Jersey. The agreement also may cover the terms of Walsh cooperating in those matters.

"I have consistently asked the NFL to provide appropriate legal protections for Mr. Walsh," said Michael N. Levy of McKee Nelson in Washington, who represents Walsh. "In recent discussions I have had with the league's lawyer, we have made substantial progress toward this end, and I am hopeful that we will be able to craft an agreement with the necessary legal protections so Mr. Walsh can come forward with the truth."

The chief sticking point in the talks had been Walsh's request for the NFL to sign a contract agreeing to indemnify him against any legal and financial damages stemming from Spygate and to pay all his attorney fees. Walsh, who worked as a Patriots video assistant from 1999 to 2001 and was fired by the team in 2003, is an assistant golf pro in Hawaii.

The recent progress indicates both sides have made key concessions since late February, when their latest negotiating letters reflected deep divisions between them. The Globe obtained copies of the letters from a Washington source.

Walsh's lawyer, in a letter Feb. 25 to NFL attorney Gregg H. Levy, described the proposed indemnification agreement as standard for major corporations "and likely similar to the type of protection that [NFL] Commissioner [Roger] Goodell would receive were he threatened with litigation for activities undertaken in the course of his employment."

The NFL, however, considered the proposal anything but standard.

Walsh's lawyer has informed the NFL that Walsh has copies of materials from his time with the Patriots, most likely videotapes - tapes the Patriots may consider stolen property.

The NFL's lawyer contended that companies do not grant blanket indemnity and agree to pay legal fees to employees who were fired and may have stolen property.

"The suggestion in your letter that the NFL Commissioner has such protection - that he would be 'indemnified' by his employers for lying to them or stealing from them - is as unbecoming as it is untrue," Gregg Levy wrote Feb. 29 to Michael Levy.

The NFL instead notified Walsh that the league would agree in writing not to pursue any legal action against him as long as he tells the truth and returns any materials he took from the Patriots.

"If Mr. Walsh is unwilling to go forward on the basis of the assurances and commitments that have been offered, his refusal to do so will raise more questions than it answers," Gregg Levy wrote.

The league was particularly opposed to paying Walsh's legal fees. Michael Levy is a former federal prosecutor and prominent Washington defense attorney - he heads the white collar/investigations and enforcement division at McKee Nelson - whose clients have included former defense secretaries Caspar Weinberger and Clark Clifford.

"This issue is not open for further discussion," Gregg Levy's letter stated of the NFL's objection to paying legal fees.

Also at issue was the protocol for handling any material Walsh turns over. His lawyer contended that the NFL's latest written proposal could have resulted in the material being destroyed, possibly impeding other inquiries and preventing Walsh from defending himself if he were to face a court challenge. In response, the NFL proposed storing the videotapes with an escrow agent of Walsh's choosing.

The bottom line, Walsh's lawyer indicated in his letter to the NFL, was that the league had a responsibility to protect Walsh's rights.

"Mr. Walsh, after all, is in this situation only because his former employer, the New England Patriots, was caught videotaping opposing coaches' signals," Michael Levy wrote. "It is only fair, right, and reasonable that the commissioner, if he wants a full and complete understanding of the Patriots' conduct, would protect Mr. Walsh to encourage him to come forward."

In the end, it seems, the NFL agreed.

"As Commissioner Goodell has repeatedly emphasized, nobody wants to hear from Matt Walsh more than the National Football League," the league's statement last night said.

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