The final step in the Floyd Landis doping case will take place in New York, America’s most expensive city, and once again, American taxpayers will foot part of the bill.
The 2006 Tour de France winner, who was stripped of his victory last year, seeks to have his title restored by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. It’s the final step in a series of appeals that have cost upward of $2 million, a good portion of which has been paid for with federal funds.
Landis is banned from cycling by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency until the end of January 2009.
The hearing starts Wednesday at a Manhattan law office. Unlike the explosive arbitration hearing Landis lost last May, this one will be closed to the public and is scheduled to last five days — less than half the time of last year’s hearing in Malibu, Calif.
But it will still be costly, and a good chunk of the cost will be footed by USADA, which gets about 70 percent of its $12 million annual budget from the federal government, and the rest from the U.S. Olympic Committee.
When all of USADA’s expenses are added up, it’s possible prosecuting the Landis case from start to finish could eat up between 5 and 10 percent of the agency’s annual budget.
“Generally, we would always prefer to spend our time and resources in supporting clean athletes and not having to prosecute guilty ones,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said Friday. “But justice takes time and money, and that’s part of the process we have in the United States. Athletes have the right to defend themselves when they have positive tests.”
Neither Landis nor his attorney, Maurice Suh, responded to interview requests from The Associated Press.
This is considered a “trial de novo” — a new case — which means Landis isn’t technically appealing the last decision, but rather having the same case heard anew, in front of a CAS panel. Thus, witnesses will be brought to New York to give some of the same testimony they gave during the first hearing at Pepperdine University.
Some witnesses are paid for their time, with the sides paying the expenses of the witnesses they call. One of the more interesting revelations of the last hearing was the tale of Dr. Wolfram Meier-Augenstein, an expert called by Landis, whose travel expenses included a $20,000 charter flight to California.
CAS, largely bankrolled by the International Olympic Committee and various sports federations, will pay for arbitrators — including one from New Zealand and one from Paris — to travel to New York for the hearing.
In May, Landis’ spokesman Michael Henson — who has since left the Landis camp — estimated the cost of the cyclist’s defense alone could reach $2 million by the time it was over. That would include fees for Suh, one of the top attorneys in Los Angeles, and Howard Jacobs, a high-profile attorney who represents several athletes in doping cases. Jacobs will not appear at the CAS hearing.
Shortly after news of Landis’ positive doping test was revealed, the Floyd Fairness Fund was set up to bankroll much of Landis’ defense, though Landis has conceded that the legal battle has eaten up much of his own savings and left him in financial trouble. Much of the fund’s money came in small amounts from private contributors, though because the fund was not established as a nonprofit, the source of the money in the fund doesn’t have to be disclosed.
In the past, Landis and Suh have said they have little concern over depleting USADA’s coffers, because it’s their belief USADA runs an unfair system that is rigged against athletes.
“Everyone talks about how much money has been spent on this case, but they had twice what we had,” Suh said in an interview last September. “They had more experts at their beck and call. They spent much more than we did. That’s always been part of the system, that they’ve always had more resources than the athlete. This is the first time it’s even been close.”
The biggest USADA expense are legal fees. There were four lawyers from the Denver-based firm of Holme, Roberts and Owen at the arbitration hearing in May. Top lawyers at Denver firms can bill up to $400 an hour. Though the preparation work won’t be as intense for this hearing as the first one, it’s easy to see the bill for the CAS proceedings reaching five figures.
There are also plane flights, hotel rooms and other expenses, not only for the attorneys but for witnesses called by USADA.
The USOC, which paid administrative fees for the case last May, is off the hook for this one — though the federation still provides USADA about 30 percent of its annual budget.
USADA uses its $12 million to run about 8,000 doping tests a year, mostly on American Olympic or potential Olympic athletes. The agency is also responsible for education and developing more effective tests to stop drug cheats.
Maybe the biggest irony is USADA is spending this money to prosecute an athlete who has never competed, and has no plans to compete, for the U.S. Olympic team. He still falls under the USADA umbrella because he’s American.
“We remain concerned about both the expense and length of time associated with some of these proceedings,” USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel said. “Due process and fairness are priorities that should comfortably coexist with efficiency and timeliness.”
2010 Tour de France