Paul Kelly has fired back at the people who fired him, which is why the NHL Players' Association is now searching for a second legal opinion into Kelly's recent ousting as executive director.
The NHLPA was forced to acknowledge yesterday that former Ontario chief justice Roy McMurtry had been asked to examine the events leading to Kelly's firing during NHLPA meetings in Chicago on Aug. 31 and that McMurtry's opinion had been called into question.
"The NHLPA and our outside legal counsel were unaware of (McMurtry's) past association with Alan Eagleson," read a statement issued by the PA.
That was a reference to McMurtry's friendship and previous dealings with Eagleson, the former NHLPA executive director who was convicted of fraud and embezzlement while running the union and imprisoned in Canada for his actions. Kelly was a U.S. attorney who helped prosecute Eagleson in Boston in 1998.
"We will now seek the NHLPA executive board's direction regarding the preparation of a second legal opinion," the PA statement concluded.
McMurtry's publicized report into Kelly's firing was immediately challenged by Kelly's legal counsel, H. James Hartley, who noted: "Paul Kelly's rights should be decided by a court or an arbitrator with no connection to the parties, not by a document leaked to the media.
"The people who ousted Paul seem not to understand the basic notions of due process, which also include obtaining Paul's side of the story," said Kelly's lawyer.
Just last week, McMurtry issued a nine-page opinion on Kelly's firing and concluded "there was legal cause to terminate Mr. Kelly because he engaged in a serious breach of trust and good faith. His behaviour represented material and willful misconduct involving the affairs of the association."
It was McMurtry's opinion Kelly had improperly obtained a full transcript of a confidential NHLPA executive board session in Las Vegas then told board members he read only part of the transcript. Instead, McMurtry said there was evidence Kelly had read the entire transcript, which included a discussion about Kelly's effectiveness in generating revenues and preparing for negotiations for a new collective agreement.
Kelly was asked to leave the June 18 meeting in Las Vegas, at which point the 30-member executive board agreed to give legal counsel Ian Penny a five-year contract while also debating Kelly's work. Once allowed back into the meeting, Kelly informed the players they may have violated the constitution by not having him present when a new contract was awarded for Penny.
McMurtry said in his report that the meeting transcript outlined "considerable mistrust" between Kelly, Penny and other PA staff members. A committee consisting of four players, including Matt Stajan of the Toronto Maple Leafs, was formed to conduct a Health assessment of the PA office in Toronto.
It was also noted by McMurtry in his report that Kelly had been reminded of the confidentiality of the transcripts yet obtained and read them regardless. In two e-mails to NHLPA chief of business affairs Mike Ouelett, Kelly is said to have admitted to reading the transcripts.
In Chicago, Kelly was queried about his actions. One NHLPA player representative is quoted in the McMurtry report as saying to Kelly, "How can we as guys trust you any more when that kind of thing happened?"
McMurtry then added in his report: "The improper obtaining of the transcript of the confidential executive council meeting could do irreparable harm to the core of the employment relationship," which supports the executive board's decision to fire Kelly.
The McMurtry report was e-mailed to a handful of media outlets this week, days before the NHLPA is scheduled to hold a conference call with its executive board. The call will determine how the PA proceeds in dealing with Kelly and the balance of his contract.
Kelly had been in office less than two years after being hired to replace Ted Saskin who was fired for allegedly assessing players' private e-mail accounts for information.