Authority may be issue in Vikings' investigation
Hiring a former Minnesota Supreme Court chief justice and federal prosecutor to scrutinize Chris Kluwe's allegations was a shrewd and timely public relations move by the Vikings on Friday, but their inability to compel sworn testimony from potent...
Hiring a former Minnesota Supreme Court chief justice and federal prosecutor to scrutinize Chris Kluwe's allegations was a shrewd and timely public relations move by the Vikings on Friday, but their inability to compel sworn testimony from potential witnesses might make the truth more elusive.
Eric Magnuson and Christopher Madel, partners and star litigators with the Minneapolis firm Robins, Kaplan, Miller and Ciresi L.L.P., were hired to interview former and current Vikings employees to determine the veracity of Kluwe's accusations, starting this weekend.
Kluwe, the Vikings' punter from 2005 to 2013, wrote a first-person article Thursday on the website Deadspin claiming his special-teams coach, Mike Priefer, made homophobic remarks and that the Vikings released him because of his support of same-sex marriage.
"We at the Vikings want to make it clear to everyone involved that we are committed to a full accounting and transparent process and plan to leave no stone unturned," said Kevin Warren, the team's vice president of legal affairs and chief administrative officer.
According to a person with direct knowledge, the preliminary witness list includes about 30 names, including owner Zygi Wilf, general manager Rick Spielman and former coach Leslie Frazier, who was fired Monday. Magnuson and Madel's first task is to secure Kluwe's cooperation.
Most interviews are expected to take place at Magnuson and Madel's downtown law office, but Warren said the team is prepared to subsidize travel if current and former players would prefer to talk at their homes.
"You always want players to speak where it is most comfortable to them," he said.
The team moved swiftly to hire Magnuson, the state's chief supreme court justice from 2008 to 2010, and Madel, who chairs his firm's government and internal investigations group.
The person with direct knowledge, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation, said that was to avoid having to ask the NFL to intervene and appoint an investigator, which the league did during the 2013 season to handle the Miami Dolphins' Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin harassment case.
Madel led the Fiesta Bowl's internal investigation of a political kickback scheme that led to the conviction of CEO John Junger for violating federal campaign finance laws.
In that case, investigators interviewed 31 witnesses and reviewed more than 10,000 pages of documents to produce a 276-page public report that chronicled how Fiesta Bowl employees were reimbursed after contributing to the campaigns of Fiesta-friendly politicians.
At Winter Park, Magnuson and Madel are charged with examining Kluwe's allegations, presenting their findings to Vikings management for review and recommending corrective action.
"They are taking the issue very seriously," said Justin Cummins, an employment and civil rights attorney in Minneapolis. "It's not an admission of guilt or liability but more in response to high-profile allegations, and the team wants to get out in front of the problem, figure out the extent of the problem and determine what the remedy is."
Because the review is not a criminal case or civil litigation, Magnuson and Madel's investigatory powers are limited. They cannot subpoena witnesses or have them testify under oath. The central issue is Kluwe's allegation that Priefer said during a 2012 special-teams meeting, "We should round up all the gays, send them to an island, and then nuke it until it glows."
Priefer denied making the statement, and several Vikings players publicly supported Priefer's character and integrity.
Kluwe said teammates witnessed the episode. Investigators will try to determine which players were in the room at the time and what they might have heard.
"It will be difficult to learn the true and complete story if you cannot compel people to testify under oath," Cummins said. "You're asking people questions, and one hopes they'll tell the truth regardless of other considerations at play, but when someone is considering their security or professional future or personal relationships then the temptation is to fudge the facts."
Attorney and legal commentator Ron Rosenbaum said Friday the Vikings risk having Kluwe's allegations substantiated by investigators while trying to protect one employee who already has been terminated (Frazier) and another (Priefer) whose job security is tenuous as the team searches for a new head coach.
"The key is Priefer, who knew it and when they knew it," said Rosenbaum, playing off an old Watergate axiom. "To the extent it can be isolated below the brain trust, then heads can roll if necessary. And it looks good by doing the smart thing by hiring a top-notch crew from Jump Street.
"This is exactly what you want to do at the front end of this thing no matter what happened."
Based on Kluwe's article, Rosenbaum said Frazier's role appeared benign while Priefer and Spielman have the most to lose for fostering a culture of intolerance -- if the allegations hold up to scrutiny.
"The guy who comes out looking best is Zygi Wilf," Rosenbaum said.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.