Vilma upset about hearing schedule

Posted: November 26, 2012

Saints linebacker Jon Vilma expressed disappointment on Friday that the new schedule for bounty hearings virtually prevents him from being able to personally confront his accusers.

Vilma wanted to be present for witness interviews with former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and former defensive assistant Mike Cerullo, who assisted the NFL's investigation into the Saints cash-for-hits pool.

According to documents obtained by the Associated Press, the NFL is responsible for producing Cerullo in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, the same day the Saints play in Atlanta. Williams is scheduled to appear Friday morning.

The schedule was set by former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who was appointed to oversee the latest round of appeal hearings in the matter.

Vilma says he appreciates that Tagliabue is directing the NFL to produce witnesses after the league initially resisted. Yet he cannot help but wonder whether the hearing schedule was designed to discourage him from attempting to attend the hearing sessions featuring the cross-examination of Williams and Cerullo.

"The witness part is good. I think it's [unfortunate] that I'm not going to be there for Cerullo and Williams when they testify," Vilma said. "These people are why I was [initially] suspended for a year, so I would love to be there. I don't know why [Tagliabue] did that, but whatever."

Even as Tagliabue moves the process forward, a federal judge is still considering arguments by players that Tagliabue should be removed as arbitrator because he is biased in favor of the NFL. Based on the schedule laid out by Tagliabue, U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan could choose to rule as early as next week.

Vilma and Saints defensive end Will Smith were among four players initially suspended for various lengths, but those punishments were vacated. Commissioner Roger Goodell reissued the suspensions with some modifications, and when the players appealed again, Goodell appointed Tagliabue to oversee the new hearings. Vilma and Smith are still playing pending the outcomes of their appeals and have not served a game of their suspensions.

For Vilma, getting back on the field was a personal triumph, not only because of the relentless legal resistance he has put forth fighting his suspension. The Saints are 4-1 since Vilma's return.

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