Judge sides with Brady on 'Deflategate,' NFL appeals

Judge Tosses Tom Brady's Deflategate Suspension

NEW YORK (AP) -- Tom Brady learned Thursday he will start the season on the field after a judge lifted the league's four-game suspension of the star quarterback for a scandal over deflated footballs, saying he was treated unfairly by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The league quickly appealed.

U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman criticized Goodell for dispensing "his own brand of industrial justice" as he found multiple reasons to reject the suspension one week before New England's Sept. 10 opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Super Bowl MVP has insisted he played no role in a conspiracy to deflate footballs below the allowable limit at last season's AFC championship game, a 45-7 rout of the Indianapolis Colts.

Click through to see Twitter reaction to the ruling:

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Judge sides with Brady on 'Deflategate,' NFL appeals
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Congratulations to Tom Brady on yet another great victory- Tom is my friend and a total winner!
Robert Kraft statement: http://t.co/JluxkJp4H0
@nflcommish lmao
Enter to win a signed Tom Brady jersey: http://t.co/QO2XQYdP0I http://t.co/Vbr8pLmvqn
Classic! http://t.co/s7qjNUoVZI
This is a huge win for Tom Brady, but even bigger win for NFLPA. Next time a player is suspended without real evidence, they'll go to court.
God bless America.
Source says #Cowboys DL Greg Hardy will discuss with union whether to appeal his 4-game suspension now that Brady overturned
Great day for Tom Brady but I feel really bad for that Dom Grady guy that was gonna start in his place. Stay ready, Dom. Be a professional.
I feel like we don't appreciate Roger Goodell's core incompetence enough
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The judge cited "several significant legal deficiencies" in the league's handling of the controversy, including no advanced notice of potential penalties, a refusal to produce a key witness and the apparent first-ever discipline of a player based on a finding of "general awareness" of someone else's wrongdoing.

"Because there was no notice of a four-game suspension in the circumstances presented here, Commissioner Goodell may be said to have `dispensed his own brand of industrial justice,'" Berman wrote, partially citing wording from a previous case.

He said a player's right to know what constitutes violations and what penalties are was "at the heart" of the collective bargaining agreement "and, for that matter, of our criminal and civil justice systems."

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"The court finds that Brady had no notice that he could receive a four-game suspension for general awareness of ball deflation by others," the judge wrote.

Goodell said it was necessary to appeal "to uphold the collectively bargained responsibility to protect the integrity of the game."

He called the need to secure the game's competitive fairness "a paramount principle."

Hours after Goodell issued his statement, the league appealed to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan with a one-page notice from NFL attorney Daniel Nash.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league would not seek an emergency stay, freeing Brady to play while the case is appealed. It could be months before the court considers the case, since the league would have to show it would suffer irreparable harm to speed up the timetable.

See the Deflategate scandal in photos:

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Judge sides with Brady on 'Deflategate,' NFL appeals
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 31: Quarterback Tom Brady of the New England Patriots leaves federal court after contesting his four game suspension with the NFL on August 31, 2015 in New York City. U.S. District Judge Richard Berman had required NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Brady to be present in court when the NFL and NFL Players Association reconvened their dispute over Brady's four-game Deflategate suspension. The two sides failed to reach an agreement to their seven-month standoff. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - AUGUST 22: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots participates in warmups prior to a preseason game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on August 22, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 12: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady leaves federal court after appealing the National Football League's (NFL) decision to suspend him for four games of the 2015 season on August 12, 2015 in New York City. The NFL alleges that Brady knew footballs used in one of last season's games was deflated below league standards, making it easier to handle. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell leaves the Federal District Courthouse August 12, 2015 in New York. Brady and NFL. Goodell and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady met with Judge Richard M. Berman who questioned both sides about Bradys four-game suspension for his role in the 'deflate-gate' scandal after the NFL decided Brady was aware that the balls were deflated in the first half of the Super Bowl final in January 2015. AFP PHOTO / DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
CHARLOTTE, NC - AUGUST 28: A fan taunts Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots as he takes the field during their preseason NFL game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on August 28, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 12: New England Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady arrives at federal court to appeal the National Football League's (NFL) decision to suspend him for four games of the 2015 season on August 12, 2015 in New York City. The NFL alleges that Brady knew footballs used in one of last season's games was deflated below league standards, making it easier to handle. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - AUGUST 13: A fan holds a 'Free Brady' sign in the crowd referencing Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots during a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers at Gillette Stadium on August 13, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
A group of people wearing 'Deflategate' hats wait outside federal court during a conference meeting between New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and U.S. District Judge Richard Berman in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2015. Berman seems intent on getting a settlement of a dispute over Brady's four-game suspension for his role in using underinflated game balls -- in what's come to be known as Deflategate. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 12: New England Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady arrives at federal court to appeal the National Football League's (NFL) decision to suspend him for four games of the 2015 season on August 12, 2015 in New York City. The NFL alleges that Brady knew footballs used in one of last season's games was deflated below league standards, making it easier to handle. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - MAY 24: Ryan Desilets and Jon Harmon both from Milford, Massachusetts, show support for New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady at the 'Free Tom Brady' rally at Gillette Stadium on May 24, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The rally was held in protest of Brady's four game suspension for his role in the 'deflategate' scandal. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 22: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady speaks to the media at a press conference at Gillette Stadium about the under-inflated footballs used in the AFC Championship Game. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
PHOENIX - JANUARY 27: The annual 'Media Day' for the Super Bowl was held at the US Airways Arena in downtown Phoenix. Players and coaches from first the New England Patriots, then the Seattle Seahawks, spent over an hour taking questions from the media. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick looked unusually upbeat as he listened to a question. (Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Behind the scenes: Making the Super Bowl XLIX footballs! #SB49 đź“·: Rick Osentoski/AP
Making of the @SuperBowl XLIX footballs [PHOTOS]: http://t.co/qayPQfqt0A #SB49 http://t.co/0dQRKYgClH
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 22: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady speaks to the media at a press conference at Gillette Stadium about the under-inflated footballs used in the AFC Championship Game. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 22: New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick speaks to the media on January 22, 2015 on issues surrounding under-inflated footballs used during the AFC Championship Game. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 22: New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick spoke to the media on January 22, 2015 on issues surrounding under-inflated footballs used during the AFC Championship Game. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
FOXBOROUGH, MA - JANUARY 22: New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick speaks to the media on January 22, 2015 on issues surrounding under-inflated footballs used during the AFC Championship Game. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 26: A fan holds a sign referencing 'deflate-gate,' the under inflation of footballs used by the Patriots during the AFC Championship game, during the New England Patriots Send-Off Rally at City Hall Plaza on January 26, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Patriots will face the Seattle Seahawks in Superbowl XLIX on Sunday. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 18: Umpire Carl Paganelli #124 holds a ball on the field after a play during the 2015 AFC Championship Game between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium on January 18, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. It was reported on January 19, 20015 that the league is looking into the apparent use of deflated footballs by the New England Patriots during their game. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01: Tom Brady #12 and Julian Edelman #11 of the New England Patriots celebrate after defeating the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 to win Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 01: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates with the vince Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 during Super Bowl XLIX at University of Phoenix Stadium on February 1, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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The union's executive director, DeMaurice Smith, said in a statement the ruling proves the contract with the NFL doesn't grant Goodell "the authority to be unfair, arbitrary and misleading."

Patriots owner Robert Kraft called Brady a "classy person of the highest integrity" and the penalty against him "unwarranted and unprecedented discipline." He said the ruling was thoughtful.

Berman said the league was wrong to discipline Brady as if a deflating ball accusation was equal to using performance enhancing drugs.

Brady was also denied equal access to investigative files, including witness interview notes, and wasn't permitted to examine one of two lead investigators, the judge said.

The Patriots, who were fined $1 million and stripped of two draft picks, posted a celebratory photo on Twitter of Brady pumping his fist and screaming at the Super Bowl last season.

The ruling was a surprise to some legal experts who believed Berman was merely pressuring the league to settle at two hearings when he criticized its handling of the investigation over the last eight months.

The league brought the scandal court within minutes of Goodell upholding Brady's suspension, blasting the quarterback for arranging the destruction of his cellphone and its nearly 10,000 messages just before he was interviewed for the NFL probe. The union countersued.

The league spent more than $3 million for its investigation by prominent attorney Ted Wells, who had previously conducted NFL probes. While Wells' 243-page report found it was "more probable than not" that two Patriots ball handling employees deliberately released air from Patriots game balls at the AFC championship game, it cited no direct evidence that Brady knew about or authorized it.

Goodell, though, went beyond Wells' report, finding in late July as a result of testimony from Brady and others that the quarterback conspired with the ball handlers and tried to obstruct the league's probe, including by destroying his cellphone.

The commissioner said he concluded Brady "knew about, approved of, consented to, and provided inducements and rewards" to ensure balls were deflated.

Berman attacked the league while questioning one of its lawyers at two hearings. He had repeatedly urged both sides to settle and tone down rhetoric. At a hearing Monday attended by Brady and Goodell, the judge announced that both sides had "tried quite hard" unsuccessfully to reach a deal.

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