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May 22, 2011 6:13 PM

Q&A: Cyclist Tyler Hamilton's Lawyer on Why His Client Came Clean

Posted by Drew Combs

When Tyler Hamilton's interview with the CBS News program "60 Minutes" airs on Sunday, it will be a culmination of sorts for what has been a tumultuous period for the former professional cyclist.

During the interview, a portion of which is available for viewing on CBS's website, Hamilton not only admits to using the banned drug "EPO," which enhances endurance by boosting the production of red blood cells, but he also says he witnessed seven-time Tour De France winner Lance Armstrong using the drug when they were teammates on the U.S. Postal Service cycling team for four years beginning in 1998.

As the government stepped up its investigation into the use of performance enhancing drugs among professional cyclists over the past year, the pressure on Hamilton and other former U.S. Postal Service teammates increased. Hamilton, an Olympic gold medalist at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, was approached by federal investigators last summer, and soon after was subpoenaed by a federal grand jury in July 2010. He admitted in his testimony to taking banned performance enhancing drugs. Two weeks ago, Hamilton handed in the gold medal won at the 2004 Olympic games to the United States Anti-Doping Agency.

As CBS's Sunday night airing of "60 Minutes" approaches, Armstrong and his advisors have accused Hamilton and other former teammates of being untruthful. On a website recently set up by Armstrong's defense team, Hamilton is described by consultant Mark Fabiani as, "a confessed liar in search of a book deal--and he managed to dupe 60 Minutes, the CBS Evening News, and new anchor Scott Pelley. Most people, though, will see this for exactly what it is:  More washed-up cyclists talking trash for cash." (Click here for our interview with another member of Armstrong's team, Patton Boggs litigation partner Robert Luskin.)

Guiding Hamilton through this dramatic fall from grace has been attorney Chris Manderson, a name partner at Newport Beach, Calif.-based Manderson Schafer & McKinlay. The Am Law Daily spoke with Manderson on Saturday afternoon about his work representing the former pro cyclist, the tough decisions his client has faced over the past year, and Hamilton's "60 Minutes" interview.

Your background is in corporate law and transactional work. How did you end up representing Tyler Hamilton in connection with his grand jury testimony?

I was corporate counsel to the denim company Rock & Republic, which was owned by Michael Ball, and I was like Michael's consigliere for all purposes. Michael was an avid cyclist and he sponsored a racing team. In March 2009, Michael called me and said, 'I have a team rider who just had a positive drug test. I know this is not what you do but can you help him.' The only acceptable answer was yes, which is what I said. That rider was Tyler Hamilton.

So, what did "helping" Hamilton entail back then?

Tyler had a doping problem in the past but this positive test was the result of taking an herbal anti-depressant. But Tyler wanted to move on with his life, so we negotiated a settlement with the United States Anti-Doping Agency where he wouldn't challenge the test results. He accepted an eight-year sanction and retired from the sport. Two months later we got notice that the World Anti-Doping Agency was appealing the settlement. They wanted a more severe sanction. I submitted a brief, in which I outlined Tyler's history with depression, and requested a public trial. Three days later they dropped the appeal.

At some point federal authorities came calling and they weren't going to go away so easily. How did you usher your client through last summer's grand jury testimony?

Tyler didn't want to talk to anyone. He wanted to ride off into the sunset and put all of this behind him. The feds didn't given him that choice. In May 2010, Floyd Landis admitted to doping and accused other cyclists of also using banned drugs. Not long after, Tyler called me and said that Jeff Novitzky, the federal official investigating the use of performance enhancing drugs in professional sports, [contacted] him. I negotiated his appearance before the federal grand jury, which occurred in July 2010.

The government, of course, has the ability to compel someone to make an appearance. But "60 Minutes" producers can't force anyone to do an interview. Why did Tyler Hamilton agree to talk to them?

My normal recommendation to Tyler is that there is no benefit to being in the news. That was my first response when a "60 Minutes" producer called in March. But we knew that Tyler's story was going to come out at some point. ["60 Minutes"] had clearly done [its] homework and knew what was going on. We concluded that talking with [them] would give Tyler an opportunity to get out in front of this and tell his story. Tyler would get an opportunity to talk about the Faustian bargain he had to make to become an elite cyclist.

Were you concerned about how federal authorities might react to Hamilton agreeing to be interviewed?

I was worried both that the feds would be pissed and that "Team Armstrong" would retaliate. The "60 Minutes" producers made it clear that this wasn't going to be Tyler ratting out Lance, but about the problems with doping in the cycling world. The piece is about corruption in the sport writ large. I was able to get comfortable that the feds would not object to this and would not punish Tyler.

Have you interacted much with lawyers representing any of the other cyclists that have been linked to the investigation?

I have heard from Lance's lawyers from the very beginning. Before Tyler testified to the grand jury, Lance's lawyers...wanted to enter into a joint defense agreement. I told them, "I don't think my guy is a defendant."

What was your involvement in Hamilton's decision to give back his 2004 Olympic gold medal?

When Tyler made the decision to go public, we knew there was going to be blow back. We knew people would say he should give up the medal. We tendered the medal to USADA in an attempt to make the gold medal a moot issue. No one can say we negotiated some deal for him to keep the medal.

There has nonetheless been a great deal of blow back. What's your response to assertions by  Armstrong and his advisors that Tyler Hamilton is lying?

First of all, it's very consistent with team Lance's MO. They have done everything they can to drag Tyler through the mud for the past three days. But he's telling the truth now, and there is nothing they can do to shut him up.

What's next? Will your firm continue to represent Hamilton going forward?

Tyler has become a good personal friend. We will continue to represent him in connection with the federal investigation. We will also represent him in connection with any future business transactions, since I am a corporate lawyer. But he owns a cyclist training business in Colorado, so I don't think he's going to be calling me to make an offer on Microsoft.

 

RELATED

The Score: Lance Armstrong Lawyers Up...Again
May 21, 2011

 

Contact Drew Combs at dcombs@alm.com.


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The whole thing is more of our foolish "war on drugs". Instead of the current witch-hunt, I think it should be a REQUIREMENT that all pro athletes use performance enhancing substances. They can opt out (but of course none will). We expect our athletes to be super-human monsters but then we ruin their lives and careers when they give us what we want ?

saw tyler hamilton on 60 minutes=tough interview. How can I let tyler and lawyer know that there are many out here who say hang in there- a I have no other interest other than wishing this young man well.Always believed Lance was a liar. Tell Tyler times are tough but tough people last
teacher

@Brad-Lee, your assumption in regard to athletes and cyclists is wrong. Some riders have chosen to ride clean and they have suffered because of that decision (lost races, lost wages etc). Cycling and sport can be entertaining and exciting without people being doped up.

You say that Tyler Hamilton is telling the truth now, and there is nothing they (Lance Armstrong)can do to shut him up. So what you're saying is that Tyler Hamilton is now an honest cheat!

The lawyer and his client were prepared for the blowback from cycling's governing board and Team Armstrong, which today are vehemently denying Hamilton's assertions. Calling Hamilton a close friend, Manderson said he suspects he'll continue representing the cyclist through the media blitz and ongoing federal investigation, although it is clear his client is looking forward to the day he can indeed return to his quiet cycling training business.

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