An attorney for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar told a judge that an attempt to settle his lawsuit against a trading card company failed because the defendants had no one present with authority to resolve the case.
Attorney John Gaule, representing the six-time National Basketball Association champion, was sharply critical of defendants, The Upper Deck Co. Inc. and its chief executive officer, Richard McWilliam, during a pretrial hearing on Monday before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Linfield.
According to Gaule, Abdul-Jabbar, the former Lakers center, was present for the settlement conference with Judge Helen Bendix on Thursday. However, McWilliam did not attend and instead another executive from the Carlsbad-based company came in his place, Gaule said.
The lawyer said he and his client, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, were told “flat out lies” that McWilliam’s health prevented him from being there. The company official who came was not helpful, he said.
“He didn’t have full settlement authority,” Gaule said. “There was no new offer from the last time we were there.”
Gaule said McWilliam also missed two of three scheduled depositions earlier in the case.
Abdul-Jabbar filed suit in August 2010, saying the company used his image from his UCLA playing days on “Greats of the Game” trading cards beginning in February 2010 without his permission. Abdul-Jabbar’s February 2008 contract with Upper Deck was only for the use of his images from his professional basketball playing days and expired after 18 months, according to Gaule.
Linfield said he will consider monetary sanctions against McWilliam, but deferred any such actions until April 11. The judge also said he was losing patience with McWilliam.
“I’m getting increasingly concerned about Mr. McWilliam’s lack of serious participation in this process,” Linfield said. “He decided to blow off the mandatory settlement conference at the last minute.”
Defense attorney David Skilling said Gaule was told before the settlement conference that McWilliam would not attend. He also said the company executive who came instead could have settled the case on McWilliam’s behalf if the two sides reached an agreement.
According to a trial brief previously submitted by Gaule, Abdul-Jabbar has incurred damages that include harm to the commercial value of his identity, reduction of future publicity value of his identity and damage to his standing among peers.
Gaule contends in court papers that his client’s image has been hurt beyond the playing cards. On several occasions, Abdul-Jabbar has been approached by fans in public settings asking that he autograph the cards featured in the Greats of the Games series, according to Gaule.
“As a matter of principle, Abdul-Jabbar cannot sign these unauthorized cards and has had to refuse his fans’ autograph requests,” Gaule wrote. “This has caused harm to Abdul-Jabbar’s reputation among fans and has also caused (him) emotional distress because he would prefer to honor his fans’ request for autographs, particularly when those fans have spent their hard-earned money on sports memorabilia featuring (his) image.”
Gaule maintains Abdul-Jabbar, who turns 65 April 16, is entitled to damages for the value of his services as well as injury to “peace, happiness, his goodwill and his future publicity value.” He also is asking for punitive damages and alleges the defendants have produced unauthorized cards of other athletes.
Trial is now scheduled for April 12.