Landis wants the public in on his hearing

Originally Published: August 16, 2006
By Shaun Assael | ESPN The Magazine

If the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency formally charges Tour de France winner Floyd Landis with violations of its drug policy, the cyclist will take the unprecedented step of asking that his hearing be opened to the public, according to a member of his defense team.

"Floyd is a public figure, and we think that he deserves to have the public hear his side of the story," one of his attorneys, Howard Jacobs of Los Angeles, told ESPN The Magazine.

Since synthetic testosterone was found in Landis' system after the 17th stage of the Tour, even his lawyers believe charges are inevitable. On Aug. 5, a second test of his urine sample confirmed the first finding.

Because of that, Landis' legal team has zeroed in on an American Arbitration Association rule that governs U.S. doping cases. It allows athletes who contest their charges to request that their hearings be opened to the public.

John Ruger, an Olympic ombudsman who helped to write the rule, says its "intent is to be fair to an athlete who, for whatever reason, doesn't think he can get a fair hearing in a closed session."

Jacobs said the idea to invoke the rule gained urgency this week after Dick Pound, head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, wrote an opinion piece for a Canadian newspaper that ridicules Landis' claims of innocence. In the piece, Pound suggested that Landis' supporters might as well believe the cyclist was "ambushed by a roving squad of Nazi frogmen and injected against [his] will with the prohibited substances."

"Given all the lobbying for public opinion that's going on, the only way for Floyd to clear his name is if the public watches his hearing and makes up its own mind," Jacobs said. "Dick Pound piling on makes it impossible for us to get a fair hearing unless it is open to the public."

The request for an open hearing would mean the case could be televised live to news outlets around the world. Travis Tygart, USADA's general counsel, said, "If an athlete requested it, we wouldn't object."

Since USADA was created in 2000, all its hearings have been held behind closed doors. Although decisions in those cases are published, the public has been given little insight into how the system works. That has exposed USADA to charges from high-profile athletes such as Marion Jones that it is a "kangaroo court." Jones was questioned by USADA in 2004, then made that suggestion in a televised news conference in San Francisco.

Landis offered a series of possible reasons for his positive drug test after the results became public, including the much-maligned theory that he drank too much whiskey before the 17th stage of the race. Even Lance Armstrong, a supporter, criticized him for talking too much. Since then, Landis has stepped back, saying he was forced to speculate prematurely because the media learned of the test before he did.

"I know the truth. I know I won the Tour clean. I know I raced by the rules," he told ESPN.

Two areas of attack for Landis' legal team involve the test itself and the lab that administered it.

The test scans for two atoms (carbon 12 and 13) in testosterone molecules. A skewed ratio of carbon 12 and 13 atoms is indicative of synthetic testosterone. Don Catlin, head of the UCLA Olympic Lab and a developer of the test, told The New York Times that it is extremely effective when used correctly. Landis' lawyers also are expected to attack the integrity of the Paris lab that used it. That lab was recently at the center of a controversy involving Armstrong, in which he said its officials mishandled his frozen urine samples.

At least one other attorney for athletes believes allowing cameras into a hearing will strengthen doping's justice system.

"It might be healthy to open it up to scrutiny so it can be made more transparent," said Edward Williams, a former Olympian and New York lawyer who has represented a half-dozen athletes before USADA. "If the athlete requests the hearing be open, USADA should not be able to say no."

Cycling's governing body, the UCI, is expected to refer the case to USADA sometime in the next week. After that, USADA's anti-doping prosecutors will submit the evidence to a review board made up of panelists from the legal, scientific and medical fields. The board will ask Landis for any documents he might want to submit in his defense. If it still thinks there are grounds to move forward, the board will approve USADA's request to bring charges, much as a grand jury hands up an indictment.

Jacobs said he doesn't expect a hearing to take place until December at the earliest.

Shaun Assael is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.

• Senior writer for ESPN The Magazine
• Author of "Wide Open: Days and Nights on the NASCAR Tour"; the New York Times best-selling "Sex, Lies and Headlocks"; and "Steroid Nation"