September 23, 2020

Raising red card, Kirkland partner quits FIFA probe


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File photo of Garcia, Chairman of the investigatory chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee attending a news conference at the at the Home of FIFA in ZurichBy Nathalie Pierrepont, From The Am Law Daily

Michael Garcia is taking himself off the pitch.

After two years at the helm of a high-profile probe into a controversial process that awarded the next two , the former top federal prosecutor and Kirkland & Ellis litigation partner resigned Wednesday from his role as independent ethics investigator for the Zurich-based Fédération Internationale de Football Association.

Garcia, who was not available Wednesday for an interview, pointed to a “lack of leadership” at the top of soccer’s global governing body in a two-page resignation statement issued by the firm. Garcia also said he had lost confidence in the independence of Hans-Joachim Eckert, a German judge and his counterpart on ’s ethics committee, which was tasked with parsing through his findings and making subsequent recommendations for reform to .

Garcia stepped down from his post the day after FIFA announced its decision to reject his challenge to Eckert’s 42-page summary of his investigation, which in November cleared the way for Russia and Qatar to host the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.

Garcia, a former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said that Eckert’s report contained “numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of facts and conclusions” in a statement to FIFA’s Appeal Committee on Nov. 13. The appeals committee concluded that considering Garcia’s appeal was unnecessary.

“No independent governance committee, investigator or arbitration panel can change the culture of an organization,” Garcia said in his statement. “And while the Nov. 13, 2014, Eckert decision made me lose confidence in the independence of the Adjudicatory Chamber, it is the lack of leadership on these issues within FIFA that leads me to conclude that my role in this process is at an end.”

FIFA president Joseph Blatter said in a statement of his own Wednesday that he’s “surprised” by Garcia’s decision. “The work of the Ethics Committee will nonetheless continue and will be a central part of the discussions at the ExCo meeting in the next two days,” said Blatter.

Blatter’s statement also noted that an acting chairman of FIFA’s ethics committee has not yet been appointed by the executive committee.

Garcia and Eckert were unanimously elected in 2012 as cochairmen of an independent ethics committee responsible for investigating allegations of corruption surrounding the World Cup bidding and selection process.

A disagreement between the two attorneys about publishing Garcia’s findings in full flared in recent months. According to an early November report by The New York Times, Garcia, who compiled about 200,000 pages of evidence during his investigation, pushed to make the report public in the interest of transparency, while Eckert raised concerns about the protection of personal privacy. Eckert said in an October statement on FIFA’s website that publishing the full report would put the organization in a “very difficult situation legally.”

Kirkland isn’t the only firm that has been facing off with FIFA recently. Boies, Schiller & Flexner took on a pro bono case earlier this month to represent a group of female players suing FIFA and the .

In a case filed with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario in Toronto, the players allege that the two organizations hosting the Women’s World Cup next summer are discriminating against women by forcing them to play on artificial turf as opposed to grass.

Players claim that Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s general secretary, repeatedly refused to discuss the artificial turf issue with them.

“Soccer is a sport but has no place for the games you and FIFA are playing with the world’s best female footballers,” said a letter by newly elected Boies, Schiller & Flexner litigation partner Hampton Dellinger, who is representing the players in their dispute with FIFA and the CSA.

On Dec. 9, the tribunal issued a warning to both organizations, declaring that the players’ claims were “very serious” and “not only raise possible [Ontario Human Rights] Code violations; they strike at the integrity of the tribunal’s process for enforcing human rights in Ontario.”

Dellinger, who joined Boies Schiller as counsel last year after nearly five years as a partner at Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson in Raleigh, says nothing surprises him when it comes to FIFA.

“Whether it’s rooting out corruption or hosting a Women’s World Cup free of gender discrimination, FIFA appears incapable of policing itself,” adds Dellinger, the son of noted O’Melveny & Myers appellate litigator Walter Dellinger III.

FIFA, whose in-house director of legal affairs is Marco Villiger, has retained Marlys Edwardh, Daniel Sheppard and Frances Mahon from Ontario’s Sack Goldblatt Mitchell to represent it in the Ontario matter.

IMAGE: Michael J. Garcia Photo by Michael Buholzer/Newscom

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