The Work

January 11, 2010 5:39 PM

McGwire's Hunton Lawyer Praises Hitter for Coming Clean on Steroids

Posted by Brian Baxter

After years of suspicions about steroid use, former baseball star Mark McGwire admitted on Monday to using steroids throughout his career, including when he broke baseball's seasonal home run record in 1998.

McGwire was vilified for refusing to answer questions about steroid use during contentious 2005 testimony before Congress on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball.

Mark Bierbower

Now one of the lawyers who advised McGwire on his testimony, Hunton & Williams congressional oversight and investigations partner Mark Bierbower (pictured right), tells The Am Law Daily that his client made the right decision to withhold information then and come clean now.

"I think [Mark] deserves credit for being honest and open, and obviously the situation is different today than it was five years ago," Bierbower says. "He wanted to tell the truth then, which was quite a risk at the time. He was aware that he could be prosecuted and that his family and friends could be the subject of criminal investigations. And now he felt it was time to get this off his chest and tell the truth."

Bierbower declined to comment when asked whether the nearly five years that have transpired since McGwire's testimony meant that any statute of limitations had expired that could have led to McGwire's prosecution. His client never denied taking steroids when before Congress, but simply sought to change the subject when the question was put to him.

The ex-St. Louis Cardinals slugger evaded questions about steroid use by himself and others when questioned by a House government reform committee panel. When asked if he was invoking his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself, McGwire gave the much-pilloried reply, "I'm not here to talk about the past."

McGwire's performance before Congress led Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, himself a lawyer, to claim that his player had been "overcoached" by counsel and missed an opportunity to be truthful.

"He looked uncomfortable the whole time," La Russa said at the time. "He has been forceful in his statements denying [steroid use]. I was surprised that he didn't repeat what he had said earlier."

McGwire has said he wanted to tell the truth in 2005, but was advised against doing so by his lawyers and that the congressional hearings were the "worst 48 hours of my life." Bierbower says he understood McGwire's frustrations, but couldn't advise his client to implicate himself and others. (Bierbower declined to say how he came to be retained in the matter, other than noting he had been referred based on his previous experience advising clients before Congress.)

"[Mark] went into that hearing knowing that his name and his reputation would be damaged, but he declined to talk about his use of steroids to protect his family," Bierbower says. "It's good that he can now come clean and disclose his use, apologize, and seek forgiveness. And we're pleased that he can come out now and say what he wanted to say back then.

Bierbower advised McGwire on his testimony along with fellow Hunton partner Marty Steinberg, the head of the firm's commercial litigation practice. Bierbower says that he and Steinberg continue to advise McGwire and were aware that he was preparing to make a public statement on his steroid use.

McGwire retired from baseball in November 2001, the same year that Barry Bonds, no stranger to steroid-related legal issues, broke his seasonal home run record. After secluding himself from the public for the past several years, McGwire was hired in October by his former team to serve as its hitting coach this upcoming season.

Bierbower declined to comment when asked if McGwire consulted him and Steinberg prior to releasing today's statement, but acknowledged that McGwire will be answering questions on the topic in his new role with the Cardinals. (McGwire also received only 23.78 percent of the votes in a recent ballot for election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, in part because of his tattered reputation from baseball's steroids scandal.)

Stanley Brand of Washington, D.C.'s Brand Law Group, which represented Major League Baseball during the congressional investigation into the league's steroid policies, declined to comment. (Brand also serves as vice president of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues.)

As a result of the steroids scandal, the league hired former Senate majority leader and DLA Piper chairman George Mitchell to lead an internal investigation and issue a report on the role of steroids in baseball, which The American Lawyer featured in a front-page story for its March 2008 issue. (Mitchell resigned from DLA in January 2009 to serve as the Obama administration's special envoy to the Middle East.)

DLA litigation partner Charles Scheeler in Baltimore, who served as Mitchell's top deputy on the inquiry, declined to comment. McGwire declined to speak with Mitchell Report investigators.

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