UPDATED 9:13 p.m. ET
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge on Wednesday denied a motion to dismiss Billy Hunter's wrongful termination lawsuit on the basis of a dispute over his contract, but threw out most allegations against Derek Fisher and all actions against his former business manager, Jamie Wior.
Hunter, 71, will be allowed to continue his action against the National Basketball Players Association in which he disputes the union's argument that his contract was invalid as a basis for firing him in February 2013. In fact, Superior Court Judge Huey Cotton ruled, "There is sufficient ... evidence to show that there is an enforceable contract between Hunter and the NBPA."
But the judge threw out most of the allegations against Fisher, the former NBPA president, and all against Wior. Hunter had alleged that the two conspired to oust him and seize control of the NBPA during and after the 2011 lockout.
Cotton ruled that Hunter's claims against Fisher regarding breach of contract and intentional interference with contractual relations may go forward, but struck 12 other allegations against the former NBPA president from the lawsuit, including defamation. All four claims against Wior were dismissed, while four actions against the NBPA were upheld -- all related to Hunter's employment contract.
The NBPA had furnished a provision from its constitution and by-laws stating that the employment contract of an executive director must be ratified by the board of player representatives -- which Hunter's 2010 extension was not. But the judge ruled that he "does not find the provision crystal clear" as to whether it applies to contract extensions on virtually the same terms.
"Hunter has demonstrated that he and the NBPA entered into a written employment agreement and that Fisher executed the 2010 Extension as NBPA president," Cotton wrote in his ruling.
Hunter is seeking at least $10.5 million in salary and benefits that were owed him at the time of his dismissal in February 2013 over accusations of nepotism and improper business dealings. With that issue moving forward toward a potential trial, settlement talks are expected to commence. According to two people familiar with arguments made at the hearing, the NBPA's counsel indicated that if the contractual issue were upheld it would seek to resolve the matter in arbitration. Cotton expressed no view as to whether the NBPA could legally arbitrate the terms of a contract that it has argued is invalid.
"We're pleased that the judge's decision supports Mr. Hunter's position that his contract was valid and allows his suit against the NBPA to continue," Hunter's attorney, David Anderson of Sidley Austin, said after the ruling.
"Both my clients were victorious as the entire case against Ms. Wior was dismissed and 12 of the 14 claims against Mr. Fisher were dismissed with the additional two being ruled on in the coming days," Kassof said.
The NBPA's lawyer, Christina Guerola Sarchio of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, said, "We are pleased with the court's ruling today that dismissed virtually all of Billy Hunter's claims against the union and individual defendants. While the case is ongoing, we are confident that we will ultimately prevail."
Wior, who no longer works for Fisher, was recently retained by the NBPA in a support role to prepare for the NBPA's winter meeting at All-Star weekend in New Orleans. Working with the Chicago-based executive search firm Reilly Partners, the union is still engaged in its search for a permanent replacement for Hunter as executive director.