The Colgate Scene
November 1999
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The labor pains of Howard Ganz
by John D. Hubbard
Howard Ganz '63 practices law a good deal of the time in the harshest glare. While his employment litigation for NBC, Prudential, Reader's Digest Association and other large companies is appreciated but rarely generates headlines, when the client is the National Basketball Association or baseball's American and National Leagues, even routine motions register on the media's Richter Scale.

     No stranger to seismic activity, Ganz has been practicing sports law since joining Proskauer Rose LLP in 1968.

     "I have been, for close to 30 years, involved in doing legal work for the NBA. We have at the firm a large sports law practice. We also represent the National Hockey League, Major League Soccer, purchasers or potential purchasers of NFL teams and the pro tennis tour," said Ganz, who most recently made news as the chief counsel for the baseball leagues during baseball's dispute with umpires.

     The umpires voted during a mid-season meeting to submit their resignations to the leagues effective September 2. By not working at a crucial time, the umpires figured to force baseball to the table to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement.

     "The resignations were done with the utmost seriousness," said Ganz, who faced off with the Major Leagues Umpires Association and the union's general counsel Richard Phillips, who had plans to create a new company of umpires that would be leased to baseball.

     "The leagues took all this seriously and decided they weren't going to be held hostage." After waiting a week for the union to reconsider its strategy, the leagues started hiring replacements, from Triple A, as permanent employees.

     "As time progressed a number of umpires apparently became disenchanted with the union's strategy and sent letters to the leagues saying they were rescinding their resignations." With the leagues' new hires and the rescinded resignations all umpiring vacancies were filled.

     "The net result was, 22 umpires were out of a job. They had sent in requests to rescind, but their letters had been received too late. It set the stage for the litigation. The union sought to get a judge to order the leagues to reinstate the umpires.

     In late August, the week Ganz was to go on vacation, proceedings began in Philadelphia. The judge was determined the two sides could reach an agreement, and over the course of two days the parties spent close to 18 hours in chambers.

     "The judged asked if there was any chance the case could be resolved. My answer was no." The umpires' union said any dispute could be settled.

     "Having heard that, the judge wasn't going to let it go. He moderated, in effect trying to broker a deal. The leagues were pretty unyielding."

     In the end, a conclusion was reached that Ganz says simply was "good for the leagues" (not "We smoked 'em" as was reported on national television).

     The 22 umpires remained unemployed but were paid for the month of September, and the leagues agreed they would be willing to arbitrate a claim by the union that the umpires had been improperly terminated.

     "How the union intends to prove this in the face of the letters of resignation, well, it is not considered a matter of great risk," said Ganz, who is aware the sporting press is nonetheless watching.

     "Even mundane conversations about selecting an arbitrator wind up in the paper."

     Ganz allows there is a "psychic kick" that sometimes accompanies the media attention, but he was also just as happy the New York Post referred to him as "Harold Heinz flashing a victory smile," after representing the NBA in a dispute with the New York Knicks.

     During a playoff game against Miami, several Knicks left the bench to join an on-court fight, thereby earning an automatic suspension. The players' union sought to have the action overturned and Ganz argued for the NBA, essentially against the hometown team.

     "Needless to say, it was an enormous story and the courthouse was packed. There must have been between 80 and 100 reporters." When the judge denied the request for an injunction, Ganz, though the winner, was just as happy to be known as Heinz, at least to Post readers.

     He was equally pleased when the Monica Lewinsky story broke and chased the coach-choker Latrell Sprewell case off the front pages. Ganz was standing up for the NBA, of course.

     Ganz was again in the spotlight during the NBA's protracted lockout, a dispute between the league and players that actually began in 1994 and came to a head when the 1998-99 season was nearly lost.

     The American Lawyer claimed Ganz and partner Michael Cardozo salvaged the season at the buzzer, "garnering labor peace, mostly at the expense of the players' union."

     "I love what I do," said Ganz, a deliberate man, whose sure-footed-ness leaves plenty of room for humor. "I could do a little less of it. The practice of law, particularly in the areas I practice, does infringe substantially on one's personal life. It's just the nature of the beast -- always crisis mode."

     A self-described inveterate sports fan, Ganz knows his work only appears glamorous. "It's all very intense, a difficult, sometimes wearying enterprise, but the adrenaline has not ceased to rush."

     Equipped with a skill set all lawyers should possess ("I think I have a facility with the language, both written and spoken, am able, for the most part, to maintain a balanced view. I am able to give a client an objective appraisal and am fairly level emotionally."), Ganz credits Proskauer Rose.

     "I owe a lot to this institution and to those who were my seniors and mentors. I was lucky enough to join a firm that had the NBA as a client, though it was a modest client in those days."

     Ganz has traded the marathons he used to run for golf. Among the pictures on his wall (including the Post's shot of Harold Heinz) are a few finish line shots and photographs of his children. Son David graduated from Colgate in 1992 (Howard's brother Joseph is Class of 1967), while "wayward daughter" Beth went to Duke.

     Howard Ganz seems relaxed as he tells his stories. He should be. Even in the brightest lights, nearly all have happy endings.

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