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Walsh seeks protection

With it, lawyer says he's set to turn over Patriots tapes

ARLEN SPECTER Still not satisfied ARLEN SPECTER Still not satisfied
Email|Print| Text size + By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / February 16, 2008

The lawyer for Matt Walsh, a former Patriots employee who has hinted he has tapes that could prove damaging to the team, including one of the St. Louis Rams' walkthrough prior to Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002, said his client will turn over those tapes to the NFL if the league will agree to indemnify Walsh as long as he tells the truth.

"He's willing to provide the materials to the NFL, but I need the ability to keep a copy so that I can defend him against allegations that he didn't tell the truth," said Washington-based attorney Michael Levy.

Levy said the NFL's offer to Walsh leaves his client unprotected legally against unfounded or unproven allegations and would force him to turn over to the league the very materials he would need to fight such charges.

The Boston Herald, citing an anonymous source, reported Feb. 2 the Patriots had taped the Rams' walkthrough prior to the Super Bowl. The allegation reignited the furor surrounding "Spygate," for which the Patriots were fined $250,000 and docked a first-round pick and coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000 after the team was caught illegally taping the Jets' defensive signals during a game Sept. 9.

The Patriots and the NFL have adamantly denied the Super Bowl taping took place, but commissioner Roger Goodell has said he'll reopen the investigation if pertinent new evidence surfaces.

Goodell has said he has offered Walsh, who said he's bound by a confidentiality agreement he signed when the Patriots ceased employing him in 2003, a deal whereby "he has to tell the truth and he has to return anything he took improperly" in return for indemnity.

"No one wants to talk to Matt Walsh more than we do," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told the Associated Press yesterday. "But his demand to be released from all responsibility even if his comments are not truthful is unprecedented and unreasonable. The NFL and the Patriots have assured Mr. Walsh's lawyer that there will be no adverse consequences for his client if Mr. Walsh truthfully shares what he knows. Why does he need any more protection than that?"

Levy said his proposal to the NFL also requires his client to tell the truth, although he didn't lay out what the consequences of being untruthful would be.

"Under the agreement we've proposed, Mr. Walsh is only protected if in good faith he tells the truth," said Levy. "That's what he will do."

Levy said the NFL has a former FBI agent looking into Walsh's background, which doesn't leave his client "confident that the NFL simply wants to encourage him to come forward with whatever information he has."

Aiello told ESPN.com and The New York Times that the league was just looking into public records and trying to verify Walsh's employment history.

Meanwhile, Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, who met with Goodell Wednesday to discuss the league's investigation into the Patriots' actions, said Thursday he's still not satisfied with the NFL's handling of the case.

"Matt Walsh is an important guy, and they have made it so conditional," Specter told ESPN.com. "All they [have] to do is say, 'We're not going to sue you.' It is not a big deal."

Specter was also angry that the NFL's punishment was levied Sept. 13, four days before the league got the six tapes, according to Goodell, and notes dating to 2002, that the league demanded the team turn over.

Specter is also interested in how the Patriots' taping practices, which Goodell told him dated to Belichick's arrival as coach in 2000, may have affected the teams from his state, the Philadelphia Eagles, who lost Super Bowl XXXIX to the Patriots in 2005, and Pittsburgh Steelers, who lost AFC Championship games to New England in the 2001 and '04 seasons.

Goodell sent a Jan. 31 letter to Specter that stated, "Our investigation specifically disclosed nothing related to the stealing of Eagles' signals during the Super Bowl game . . . in 2005."

However, Goodell incorrectly stated in that letter that the teams had met on only one other occasion this decade prior to the Super Bowl, an exhibition game in 2003. In fact, the teams met during the regular season in 2003, and the preseason in 2002, '03, and '04.

Levy seized on that as an example of why his client needs indemnity.

"I do not believe that Commissioner Goodell was acting in bad faith when he wrote that letter, but if it was untrue and if Commissioner Goodell was covered by the same agreement the NFL has offered to Mr. Walsh, he would be vulnerable," said Levy.

NFL officials indicated the Patriots taped the Steelers' coaches during AFC Championship games in the 2001 and 2004 seasons, and during regular-season games in 2002 and '04, Specter said.

"We consider the tapes of our coaching staff during our games against the New England Patriots to be a non-issue," Steelers chairman Dan Rooney said in a statement yesterday. "In our opinion, they had no impact on the results of those games."

At least one former player feels the Patriots' practices had an affect on the outcome of a game he played in. Willie Gary, who played in seven games for the 2001 Rams, was one of four plaintiffs named in a lawsuit filed against the Patriots, owner Robert Kraft, and Belichick in New Orleans Federal Court yesterday that seeks more than $100 million in damages.

The lawsuit contends, "The ticket purchasers and attendees of the game were damaged by watching and paying for a game tainted by the defendants' illegal activities," and "all Rams employees were damaged by having played in a Super Bowl game tainted by the defendants' illegal activity and by the loss of the game also caused by the defendants' illegal activity."

The lawsuit seeks damages on behalf of Gary, two fans who attended the Super Bowl, and a Rams season ticket-holder.

Eric Deters, the lead counsel for the lawsuit, denied it is an attention-seeking stunt.

"Is there going to be attention, do lawyers like attention? Sure, but filing a lawsuit is a serious matter. You don't file unless you have a good reason and you think you can win," he said. "I will try this case in New Orleans and win. It's about getting justice and cleaning up the league."

However, noted Boston attorney Harry Manion said the lawsuit is unlikely to ever make it to trial.

"It's frivolous to the max and it will be swiftly dismissed," said Manion.

Unfortunately, for the Patriots and their fans, it doesn't seem like the same can be said for "Spygate."

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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