Lance Armstrong appeared in court in Washington DC yesterday as his lawyers attempted to persuade a judge to throw out the lawsuit initiated by former team mate Floyd Landis and subsequently joined by the US Government that could ultimately cost the Texan $100 million.
Landis brought the action under ‘whistleblower’ legislation the False Claims Act in 2010, alleging that the doping programme behind Armstrong’s seven successive Tour de France victories between 1999 and 2005 constituted fraudulent misuse of federal funds, since for most of that period the team’s title sponsor was the US Postal Service (USPS).
The US Department of Justice joined the action in 2013, and lawyers for both sides have been arguing over issues such as discovery for months, and put their cases to US District Judge Christopher Cooper at yesterday’s pre-trial hearing, reports USA Today. Armstrong was in the courtroom, but did not speak.
Essentially, Armstrong’s case is that far from being damaged by its association with him, the publicity generated by the sponsorship $32.3 million it paid, with one estimate putting the media exposure it secured as equivalent to $160 million.
Moreover, since Armstrong was only found guilty of doping in 2012 – the 45-year-old, after years of insisting he was clean and bringing lawsuits against those who suggested otherwise, would himself confess earlier this year – his attorney Elliot Peters said summary judgment should be issued in his client’s favour and the case thrown out.
“There’s no science that would stand for the proposition that negative publicity about an athlete who competed for a sponsored team which occurs eight years after the end of the sponsorship has any impact on the sponsor,” he told the judge.
He also argued that the invoices issued to USPS for the sponsorship were not in Armstrong’s name, but that of the team’s management company, Tailwind Sports, and there was therefore no case to answer, a line of reasoning the government rejected.
Robert Chandler, for the Department of Justice, told the judge: “Lance Armstrong created a flood of lies that saturated every invoice that was submitted.
“He lied directly to the Postal Service. He had others lie directly to the Postal Service on his behalf. He made countless public statements on television and to print reporters,” added Chandler, describing them as “false statements perpetuating his lie that he wasn’t doping.”
Another government attorney, David Finkelstein, insisted: “This was not the brand advertising we were promised. This is not the brand advertising we bargained for. This was media we specifically bargained to avoid. Any loss in value can be the basis for damages,” adding that the case should proceed to be tried before a jury.
At this stage, the judge has several options, including ruling in whole or part for Armstrong, or sending the case for trial by jury.
“This is the fun part,” he said.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.