The Patriots’ legal team picked up a big win Tuesday, with an Arkansas judge ruling that e-mails between coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft will remain subject to a protective order and won’t be made public.
The e-mails discuss the compensation of some Patriots coaches and are part of a lawsuit between former Patriots assistant Bret Bielema and the University of Arkansas’s Razorback Foundation, who are battling over an $11.935 million buyout.
The Patriots argued in a Feb. 23 filing that the e-mails between Belichick and Kraft “contain competitively sensitive and personal information — including compensation paid to another member of the team’s coaching staff” and that the team “would suffer competitive and commercial harm if this information is made publicly available.”
Judge P.K. Holmes III in the Western District of Arkansas ruled Tuesday to keep the e-mails private, but stated that his decision could be revisited. The lawsuit is expected to go to trial in January 2022.
“Because the e-mails are merely documents exchanged in discovery at this point, the Court will extend NEP the benefit of the doubt and accept its argument that the e-mails should be protected in their entirety,” Holmes wrote. “If it becomes appropriate to treat the e-mails, or information derived therefrom, as judicial documents … the Court will revisit this question.”
At issue is whether Bielema’s comparatively low-paying positions with the Patriots in 2018-19 satisfied the terms of his buyout. The $11.935 million is subject to offsets on income greater than $150,000, and the terms state that Bielema had a “duty to mitigate” it by pursuing high-paying work. Instead, he accepted a position with the Patriots in 2018 for $125,000, below the offset threshold. Agent Neil Cornrich, who represents both Bielema and Belichick, is named as a co-defendant in the lawsuit.
The Razorback Foundation cut off its monthly payments to Bielema in early 2019 after paying him approximately $4.55 million. Bielema is suing to recover the remaining $7 million-plus, plus damages, while the foundation countersued for repayment of the $4.55 million plus damages.
The Razorback Foundation contends that four e-mails between Kraft and Belichick in 2018 and 2019 “demonstrate that the Patriots paid Bielema less than what he could or should have earned.”
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.