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May 27, 2011 4:46 PM

The Score: As Cycling Drug Probe Intensifies, Armstrong Adds to Legal Team

Posted by Brian Baxter

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With a federal investigation of Lance Armstrong reportedly near completion, the seven-time Tour de France winner is adding to his already formidable legal team.

The New York Times reported on Thursday that Armstrong has hired Keker & Van Nest name partner John Keker and partner Elliot Peters to represent him in the federal drug investigation, ahead of possible criminal charges related to alleged performance-enhancing drug use and blood doping. Keker and Peters were not available for comment on Friday.

Both lawyers have had success in battling the government in high-profile drug cases in the past. Peters represented the Major League Baseball Players Association in a case over the 2004 seizure of drug samples on 104 MLB players tied to the government's BALCO investigation. The seizure precipitated a steady stream of leaked positive tests for several current and former players, even though the results were under seal should have been kept confidential.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in August 2009 that federal investigators had improperly seized the drug samples, which had been taken in 2003. "This was an obvious case of deliberate overreaching by the government in an effort to seize data as to which it lacked probable cause," Ninth Circuit chief judge Alex Kozinski wrote in the opinion. (Click here for the Ninth Circuit's 9-2 en banc opinion.)

In a statement released to The Times through Armstrong spokesman and former White House special counsel Mark Fabiani, Keker said he intends to focus on the actions of Jeff Novitzky, a federal agent and lead investigator in the Armstrong and BALCO cases.

"We know Novitzky, and plan to prove that these are his repeated, illegal leaks aimed solely at destroying a true hero, not just in sports but in the fight against cancer," Keker said. "That the government is spending tax money investigating long ago bike races in Europe is an outrage."

Keker and Peters join a legal team that includes Armstrong's longtime lawyers at Austin's HowryBreen, as well as Sheppard Mullin Hampton & Richter government contracts and white-collar defense cochair Bryan Daly, and Patton Boggs litigation bigwig Robert Luskin. (We spoke with Luskin last week about his role on the defense team, just days before a report aired on the CBS television program 60 Minutes in which former Armstrong teammates accused the cyclist of doping. Our colleague Drew Combs interviewed former teammate Tyler Hamilton's lawyer about his client's decision to go public.)

Armstrong officially added Keker and Peters to his legal team last Sunday morning, before the 60 Minutes piece aired later that night, according to one source close to Armstrong's team. The cycling star is concerned about inaccurate leaks by federal investigators that could prejudice him in the court of public opinion before any potential court proceeding.

The Washington Post reported Friday that a Swiss drug lab director being probed for allegedly covering up a positive test by Armstrong in 2001, says that the cyclist never tested positive and that all appropriate procedures were followed.

AS OHIO STATE TURNS

The Ohio State University has been under fire in recent weeks over the conduct of some of its football players and embattled head coach Jim Tressel. The school publicly backed Tressel last week as he prepares to face an NCAA infractions committee this summer. He won't go it alone. (Note: Tressel resigned as football coach on Monday.)

Tressel has retained Gene Marsh, a former chairman of the college sports governing body's infractions committee, and now a partner at Birmingham-based Lightfoot, Franklin & White. Ohio State has turned to Lenexa, Kan.-based The Compliance Group and former NCAA watchdog Chuck Smrt. (CBS Sports has more on how both lawyers are skilled advocates when it comes to navigating NCAA disciplinary proceedings.)

Ohio State's troubles don't figure to end there. A former wide receiver for the school admitted to selling Big Ten rings for cash on Thursday, and on Friday a tattoo parlor owner who had bought school memorabilia from four other football players was charged with drug trafficking and money laundering by federal prosecutors.

AROUND THE HORN

-- While much has been made of the National Football League's ongoing labor troubles, the National Basketball Association's own collective bargaining battle is beginning to heat up. This week the NBA players' association filed an unfair labor charge against the league with the National Labor Relations Board. Such a move is unlikely to block any future lockout, say some observers, but both sides got a dose of reality when a key cog in the union's negotiating apparatus, general counsel Gary Hall, died suddenly last week. Hall's death could affect the timetable for future labor talks, according to sibling publication Corporate Counsel.

-- A federal jury in Manhattan has ruled in favor of Duluth, Minn.-based plane manufacturer Cirrus Design in a product liability suit filed by the widow of former New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle, who died after he flew his plane into a high-rise five years ago. The New York Daily News reports that the jury took just three hours after a month-long trial to reach its decision. Reed Smith partners Oliver Beiersdorf, Patrick Bradley, and James Martin represented Cirrus at trial. New York's Macaluso & Associates and Rheingold, Valet, Rheingold, Shkolnik & McCartney represented the widows of Lidle and Tyler Stanger, a flight instructor who also died in the crash.

-- Irving Picard, court-appointed trustee for the liquidation of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, is once again battling with lawyers for Mets owner Fred Wilpon over the issue of cooperation, according to The New York Times. The Am Law Daily reported this week on Bingham McCutchen and Davis Polk & Wardwell's roles advising on the $200 million sale of a stake in the Mets to offset Madoff claims.

-- FIFA, the world governing body for soccer, has commenced an internal investigation of its president Sepp Blatter just days before a reelection vote is set to take place. The Associated Press reports that Blatter is accused of turning a blind eye to a widening bribery scandal involving FIFA officials. Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe partner Burton Haimes, based in New York and a member of FIFA's ethics panel, won't handle proceedings in the case because of a conflict of interest, Bloomberg reports. John Collins, an ex-federal prosecutor and partner at Chicago's Collins & Collins, has compiled a report on allegations of misconduct by certain FIFA members. British barrister James Dingemans of London's 3 Hare Court has also written his own report, according to the BBC.

-- In the U.K., a far different soccer scandal is making headlines involving an alleged affair between a Manchester United player and reality TV personality whose identities the British press was barred from disclosing because of a "super injunction." Someone leaked the soccer player's name on Twitter, which led to mention of the name by a member of Parliament. That led Prime Minister David Cameron to call super injunctions "unsustainable," according to Legal Week. Twitter general counsel Alex Macgillivray is now fighting a court order by the Man U star's lawyers at London's Schillings who want the social media company to disclose the identity of its wayward tweeters, Corporate Counsel reports. (The Guardian reports that a court in California has ordered Twitter to disclose the identity of some anonymous users.)

 

Photo: Bongarts/Getty Images (Lance Armstrong / 2004 Tour de France)

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