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by Shane Stokes
October 21, 2014
Lance Armstrong’s attempt to defend himself from a multi-million dollar Qui Tam whistleblower lawsuit has become a more difficult task after the judge overseeing the case granted a motion to allow evidence gathered overseas to be used in the case.
On September 12 the rider’s former team-mate Floyd Landis sought what was termed a ‘Letter of Request pursuant to the Hague Convention on the Taking of Evidence Abroad in Civil or Commercial Matters.’
The motion was filed so that documents from the UCI could be obtained and used by Landis in the case. The United States government, which joined with Landis in early 2013, consented to the motion and would also be able to use the documents.
Armstrong and his legal team objected to the motion, seeking to block it. However Columbia District Court judge Christopher R. Cooper ruled on the matter on Monday, granting the request and allowing Landis and the US Government to approach the judicial authorities in Switzerland and to seek any relevant documents.
Landis has been instructed to submit the proposed letter of request to the court. It will be signed there, and the letter will then be translated into French and forward to the judicial authorities in Switzerland, where the UCI is based.
It has long been claimed that the UCI helped shield Armstrong from detection. Former UCI presidents Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid publicly defended Armstrong during their tenures, but have since admitted that they were aware that his blood values were suggestive of doping.
Their conduct and that of other UCI officials are currently being investigated by the Cycling Independent Reform Commission. The new UCI president Brian Cookson has pledged that the body will cooperate fully with the CIRC, which is expected to make its final ruling in the first few months of 2015.
The seeking of documents under the Hague Convention would in theory enable Landis and the US government to utilise any evidence which they might be able to glean from the UCI. The ruling would presumably also open the way for the acquisition of documents from other European countries, although it is unclear if they would need to resubmit a request to the judge in order to do that.
Armstrong denied doping for many years, testifying under oath in the mid-2000s that he had never used banned substances.
However after being accused of doping by Landis in early 2010, he was placed under federal investigation. That enquiry was later dropped in puzzling circumstances, but the US Anti Doping Agency took up the reins and eventually prevailed.
Armstrong was handed a lifetime ban in the autumn of 2012 and finally admitted doping whilst being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey in January 2013.
This admission saw the US Government’s Department of Justice join with Landis’ Qui Tam case, which had been launched in 2010 by the former professional.
Monday’s ruling contained a small victory for Armstrong; the judge agreed with a request made by him that if any documents are turned over by the UCI, that his defence team will also have a chance to see them.
Judge Cooper instructed Landis to ‘provide any documents produced by Swiss authorities in response to his request to all parties within (3) business days of receipt.’
Meanwhile the US Government’s legal team submitted a vigorous dismissal of Armstrong and the other plaintiffs’ motion to strike. They have argued against several lines of defence, including claims that the US Postal Service and the government didn’t suffer actual damage due to Armstrong’s doping, and also against an attempt to have Landis dismissed from the case due to so-called ‘illegal conduct.’
Armstrong himself has admitted that Landis has not been convicted of any criminal conduct.
Judge Cooper is yet to rule on the submission. He indicated earlier this month that he could allow up to 70 depositions per side, something which will likely mean that the case will rumble on well into 2016.
Should Armstrong and the other defendants lose, they could be liable for triple the amount of damages. Some predictions have put this final figure as up to $100 million, although others believe it could be considerably lower than that.