Judge in NFL dispute is big on compromise

Judge Susan Richard Nelson says trust is a key to successful mediation.
Judge Susan Richard Nelson says trust is a key to successful mediation.
Posted: April 05, 2011

The bare-knuckle fight between NFL owners and players arrives this week before a judge with a reputation for urging compromise.

U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson, sitting in federal court in St. Paul, will hear arguments Wednesday on the players' request for an injunction lifting the NFL lockout.

Nelson rose to her position after a decade as a magistrate judge, where the emphasis was on mediating disputes to help seven Minnesota district judges handle a yearly workload of 5,000 civil cases.

"To be a good settlement judge, a magistrate judge has to gain the respect and rapport of both sides," Nelson told the Senate Judiciary Committee during confirmation hearings in May. "By nature, settlement's difficult. It's a compromise, and it's difficult not to win."

The NFL players and owners have their eyes on winning, or maintaining, what they see as their fair share of the NFL's $9.3 billion in revenue and the income growth expected over the coming years.

Even with Nelson's experience forging compromise, the sides appear far from reaching an agreement. Instead, each wants to score a win in court.

The stakes put a spotlight on a judge new to her position, having been confirmed to her post in December. Before that, Nelson spent 10 years as a magistrate judge after 22 years as a trial lawyer.

As a private attorney she helped win a landmark antitrust case against tobacco companies, winning a $6.1 billion settlement for the state of Minnesota.

In January, Nelson oversaw talks that resulted in an amicable settlement between a lesbian couple and their high school, allowing the students to be introduced together at a "pep fest." In turn, the girls' lawsuit against the Minnesota school district was dismissed.

Compromise, Nelson told senators last May, "requires certain skills, but most importantly that the parties do trust you and trust your judgment assessing the strength of their cases."


Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214 or jtamari@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JonathanTamari.

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