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October 5, 2009 8:49 AM

The LeMond/Armstrong Chronicles: A (Semi-Regular) Look at Sports and the Law

Posted by Brian Baxter

UPDATE: Feb. 2, 10:27 a.m. Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong have agreed to an out-of-court settlement in the Trek litigation.

The long-running feud between Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong shows no signs of letting up. The two American cyclists have sniped at one another in public, battled at press conferences, and hired a peloton of lawyers in a federal court case in Minneapolis that picked up speed last Thursday.

The dispute dates back to April 2008 when LeMond sued bicycle manufacturer Trek, claiming the company failed to promote his signature line of bikes in Europe because of pressure from Armstrong. Waterloo, Wis.-based Trek sponsors bicycle racing teams and athletes, including Armstrong, a seven-time winner of the Tour de France.

Armstrong is not a party to LeMond's suit. But on Thursday, lawyers for LeMond took a deposition of Armstrong’s ex-wife, Kristin, in Austin. And according to her lawyer, the line of questioning took a nasty turn.

"They came down here under the pretense of taking her deposition on a dinner conversation that occurred years ago," says Tim Herman, of counsel at Austin firm HowryBreen. Herman says the deposition then veered to questions about Betsy Andreu, the wife of a former teammate of Lance Armstrong, who claims Armstrong admitted using performance-enhancing drugs.

"I asked them to tell me what on earth this had to do with the [Trek] contract case," says Herman, who has represented Lance Armstrong in the past. "They just kept pressing on, so I just instructed [Kristin] not to answer the questions. I told them I was going to suspend the deposition, which I thought was being taken in bad faith, and then they finally asked her relevant questions that she answered fully and completely."

After the deposition concluded, Herman filed a motion to intervene in the Minnesota case and terminate or limit Kristin Armstrong's deposition to relevant areas of inquiry.

Herman says the dinner conversation at issue relates to alleged comments made by Lance Armstrong to Trek CEO John Burke, urging him to muzzle LeMond because of public comments LeMond has made linking Armstrong to possible drug use.

"[LeMond's] mad about Trek not renewing his contract, but this has nothing to do with Kristin Armstrong," Herman says. "She hasn’t been married to Lance in six years."

LeMond’s new lawyers from Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati, led by litigation partner James DiBoise, deposed Kristin Armstrong. DiBoise declined to comment on the matter when contacted by The Am Law Daily.

LeMond’s former attorneys from Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi terminated their involvement in the case in early September. Lawyers close to the case say that Robins Kaplan bowed out in a dispute over legal fees.

Robins Kaplan has represented LeMond in other matters, securing a nearly $10 million settlement on LeMond’s behalf in a civil suit against the Yellowstone Club, a now-bankrupt ski and golf resort in Montana. (A trustee for the Yellowstone Club, whose bankruptcy has left a litany of spurned creditors, is now suing LeMond to get the settlement amount back. Robins Kaplan is still listed as counsel to the cyclist in that suit.)

Representing Trek in the LeMond suit are Ralph Weber from Milwaukee firm Gass Weber Mullins and Erik Salveson and Amanda Cialkowski from Minneapolis firm Halleland Lewis Nilan & Johnson. (Weber did not respond to a request for comment.)

Both fact and expert discovery have closed in the case, which sources say unsuccessfully went to mediation in the summer. Both sides have filed motions for summary judgment. No trial date has been set, but an October 27 hearing has been scheduled on Kristin Armstrong’s motion to intervene and terminate her deposition.

Paul Hastings Has Hand in Steelers Reorganization

The Pittsburgh Steelers might be one of the NFL’s most successful franchises, but the team’s muddled ownership structure has troubled league executives for the past year.

The Am Law Daily previously reported that Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney advised Steelers chairman Dan Rooney and president (and son) Arthur Rooney II--who is counsel at the firm--when they bought a controlling interest in the team last year.

As part of a recently completed ownership reorganization, Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker M&A chair Carl Sanchez led a team from the firm advising Timothy Rooney, Sr., and Patrick Rooney, Sr., brothers of Dan Rooney, who will relinquish their stakes in a franchise valued at $800 million.

It’s the second NFL ownership-related deal for Paul Hastings in as many years. The firm also advised real estate billionaire Stephen Ross on his $1 billion acquisition of the Miami Dolphins and the team’s 75,000-seat football stadium in January.

Around the Horn

-- When former NFL quarterback Steve McNair was murdered by his mistress in July, the sports world remembered the football star for his fighting spirit. But McNair, who left everything on the playing field, did leave behind an estate estimated to be worth $19.6 million with no will. Now his next-of-kin are lawyering up. McNair’s wife, Mechelle, and his two sons from that marriage have turned to Nashville firm Cheatham, Palermo & Garrett. Two sons from previous relationships are being represented by Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz partners John Hicks and Carolyn Schott.

-- Rob Carey, the managing partner of the Phoenix office of noted plaintiffs firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, must have the NCAA on speed dial. This year alone he’s filed an IP class action against the college sports governing body and got Ticketmaster and the NCAA to change their ticketing practices for Division I sporting events. It turns out Carey also represented former Oregon running back LeGarrette Blount, Jr.--kicked off the team earlier this year for punching an opponent in the face--in the athlete’s unsuccessful attempt to get reinstated.

-- Questions linger over the plane crash that killed former New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and a flight instructor in 2006 and just how the tragedy transpired. The crash spawned several civil suits between insurers and individuals who suffered property damage when Lidle’s four-seat plan flew into a Manhattan high-rise apartment building. The New Jersey Law Journal reports that claimants recently agreed to accept a $2 million settlement, ending their pursuit of almost $60 million in personal injury claims against the estate of Lidle and his instructor, Tyler Stanger.

-- Our colleagues at The Am Law Litigation Daily report that the tortured legal history of the America's Cup got another tack in its sail with an important judicial order addressing allegations of unfair tactics. The America's Cup is the most prestigious regatta in the sport of sailing--yes, it is a sport--and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and Latham & Watkins are skippering dueling legal teams in the dispute, whose high-seas legal history the Lit Daily has exhaustively covered here, here, and here. Now if they could only agree on a venue for the next race.

-- And finally, most fans of the Kansas City Royals have probably never heard of Stanley Weiner. He might not have hit any home runs or pitched in any games at Kauffman Stadium, but Weiner persuaded the IRS to approve a tax plan that kept the team in town. The longtime corporate lawyer from Shook, Hardy & Bacon, who retired in June after 24 years at the firm, passed away on Thursday. He was 68.

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