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Judge In Ray Rice Appeal Known For Being 'Down The Middle'


This is an important week for the National Football League and for former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. Rice was suspended from the NFL, indefinitely, for punching out his then fiancée in an elevator. He's appealing that suspension in a two-day hearing set to begin tomorrow in New York. The appeal will be heard by a former federal judge named Barbara Jones. NPR's Joel Rose has this profile.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: In 16 years as a district court judge in New York, Barbara Jones presided over some very high-profile trials.


BRIAN WILLIAMS: Tonight a big, powerful Wall Street investment bank, Goldman Sachs, is accused of fraud. That's a big charge and here's why.


ANTHONY MASON: The former WorldCom CEO sat calmly in court as the verdict was read - guilty on all counts of orchestrating the 11-billion-dollar accounting fraud at WorldCom.

ROSE: Through it all, Jones earned a reputation as a fair and serious judge. Sarah Moss has known Jones since they were both prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's office in the 1970's. They've been friends and card-playing buddies ever since.

SARAH MOSS: She is so fair, calm, unbiased and has such common sense and good judgment. It's just who she is.

JEFFREY LICHTMAN: She runs a tight ship. No BS. She doesn't like people that are unprepared.

ROSE: Criminal defense attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, practiced in front of Jones several times. He says a lot of judges still tend to think like the prosecutors they once were. Jones does not, says Lichtman. But she's not a pushover for the defense, either.

LICHTMAN: Sometimes you try to do anything you can to engage the judge to perhaps - sort of a little bit of misdirection, so to speak. Not with Judge Jones. She's very fair, very down the middle. The one thing that you're going to get from Barbara Jones - you're going to get exactly what you deserve.

ROSE: What Ray Rice and the NFL deserve has been widely discussed as the scandal has unfolded. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell initially suspended Rice for two games for knocking out Janay Palmer, who is now his wife. Then, a video of the punch itself leaked in September, and the NFL suspended Rice indefinitely. Goodell claims he never saw the elevator video until it went public. But, Rice says that he told the NFL and his former team, the Baltimore Ravens, exactly what happened last February. And Rice's lawyers argue that he's being punished twice for the same offense. Now Judge Jones will have to decide which side to believe, says Michael McCann, who teaches sports law at the University of New Hampshire.

MICHAEL MCCANN: Her decision will certainly attract headlines, and the NFL wants her decision to be seen by the public as credible and legitimate. So, by picking a judge whose reputation is one of being pretty down the middle, I think that's a smart move.

ROSE: Mccann says Judge Jones has already made one decision that could affect the outcome of the hearing, and the future of the NFL. She has required Commissioner Goodell to testify. McCann says that's a big deal, because it will give lawyers for the NFL Players Association a chance to cross examine Goodell and try to poke holes in his account of what he knew and when he knew it.

MCCANN: The hearing's about Ray Rice, but in a lot of ways it's about Roger Goodell and his future as the NFL commissioner.

ROSE: Judge Jones has made another decision that may be harder to enforce. She's imposed a gag order on the participants. The hearing is closed to the public and the press, but what happens inside is expected to come out sooner or later. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.
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