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First Amendment protected drug cheat's right to lie...

Lance Armstrong's legal problems abated slightly yesterday when a federal judge threw out a class-action lawsuit brought by readers of his bestselling books.

According to USA Today, US district Judge Morrison England ruled that the content of Armstrong's books was fully covered by the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech in the US.

"The Court concludes, despite plaintiffs' allegations that the Armstrong books contained false and misleading statements, that the content of the books is afforded full First Amendment protection," Judge England wrote in his ruling.

Lawyers representing Armstrong’s readers had brought a class-action suit against the disgraced former Tour de France winner, demanding $5 million in refunds and other damages. They said that his books, including his autobiographies, had been based on the lie that he did not take performance enhancing drugs.

Acknowledging that the content of the books was covered by the First Amendment, the plaintiffs alleged that promotional materials for the books amounted to commercial speech, which has less protection under the First Amendment, and that Armstrong and his publishers had deceived them. They claimed that they would not have bought the books had they known Armstrong was a dope cheat.

Judge England rejected that argument.

"The promotional materials relating to the Books are inextricably intertwined with the books' contents, which is non-commercial speech," England wrote. "Thus, these promotional materials are also entitled to full First Amendment protection as noncommercial speech."

Armstrong is still fighting several other fraud cases. The most serious is that brought by the federal government which has joined the whistle-blower case brought by Floyd Landis. If he loses that case, Armstrong faces a bill of up to $120 million for defrauding the US Postal Service when it sponsored his team between 1999 and 2004.

In addition SCA Promotions is suing for the $12 million in win bonuses it paid Armstrong for his 2002-2004 Tour de France victories, and Acceptance Insurance wants back $3 million in bonuses it paid for his 1999-2001 titles.

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.