Judge sets limits on key testimony in Armstrong lawsuit

Lance Armstrong, pictured above at the 2010 Tour de France. (Christophe Ena/AP)

AUSTIN, Texas — A federal judge has set some limits on key evidence and testimony in Lance Armstrong’s upcoming $100 million civil trial, including harm inflicted on former team sponsor U.S. Postal Service and whether the government should have known the cyclist and his team were cheating to win when it signed the deal.

Armstrong faces a 2018 trial as the federal government seeks to recover more than $30 million the Postal Service paid to sponsor his team for several Tour de France victories. Those wins were stripped away after Armstrong’s 2013 confession to using steroids other banned performance-enhancing drugs and methods.

If liable for damages, Armstrong could be subject to penalties in the range of $100 million.

Tuesday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper in Washington sets ground rules for evidence that both sides want to present regarding harm to the Postal Service, doping use in cycling and the character and motivation of Armstrong and his former teammate Floyd Landis, who initially filed the lawsuit in 2010 and stands to gain up to 25 per cent of the damages awarded.

The ruling bars the government’s expert witnesses from testifying that the Postal Service got no financial benefit whatsoever from its sponsorship, a decision Armstrong’s lawyers consider a key victory for arguing whether the agency was actually damaged by his doping. The government experts will be allowed to testify as to whether the agency was damaged beyond the value of its original sponsorship.

Lawyers for Armstrong and Landis both claimed victory in the ruling.

"We think it’s great. The court says very clearly the government cannot pursue that the sponsorship had no value because of team doping. They have to prove damages to Postal Service after 2013 and Lance’s confession," said Elliott Peters, an attorney for Armstrong.

"The rulings largely fall our way," said Landis attorney Paul D. Scott. "The court left open a clear path for the government and Landis to prove up damages arising from negative publicity associated with the disclosure of Armstrong’s doping and concealment."

The judge will also allow one of Armstrong’s experts to testify on the rampant use of doping in cycling in Armstrong’s era, opening up a line of defence that the government should have known, or did know, that Armstrong’s team was cheating and sponsored his team anyway.

The judge put some limits on a key piece of Armstrong evidence: reports commissioned by the Postal Service that said the sponsorship had "earned" the agency more than $100 million in global exposure. Most of those reports were ruled inadmissible, but Armstrong will be allowed to show that Postal Service officials had accepted the reports’ findings.

Armstrong’s lawyers will also be allowed — with limits — to question Landis’ credibility and potential financial motivation for filing the lawsuit. Landis himself was stripped of the 2006 Tour de France title for doping.

The government will be allowed to call as witnesses Betsy Andreu and former Tour de France winner Greg LeMond. Andreu, the wife of former Armstrong teammate Frankie Andreu, provided the first sworn testimony of doping allegations against Armstrong in a 2005 lawsuit. LeMond has publicly clashed with both Armstrong and Landis.

Tuesday’s ruling also allows the government to bring evidence about Armstrong’s relationship with other sponsors, such as Nike and Trek, that dropped him after the doping scandal broke.