Breaking Legal News - POSTED: 2008/01/25 16:42
A federal appeals court has for the second time generally sided with Justice Department efforts to use the names and urine samples of about 100 Major League baseball players who tested positive for steroids four years ago.
But the convoluted 119-page ruling likely means federal investigators will still be unable use the controversial test results for the foreseeable future because the issue is expected to be tied up in the courts for some time.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal's conclusions could ultimately expose yet more names of players who tested positive for steroids in the league's 2003 anonymous testing program, beyond the recently released Mitchell report on steroids in baseball. Federal investigators seized the drug testing records of dozens of players in 2004 in connection with the Balco steroids scandal.
The showdown over the drug tests could have an impact on the perjury case against former Giants star Barry Bonds if the government obtained evidence of steroid use, although the slugger's lawyers have always insisted it has no bearing on him. The perjury indictment against Bonds already alleges that he failed a separate steroids test in 2000.
Meanwhile, the 9th Circuit - as it did in a 2006 ruling - mostly rejected the arguments of the players' union, which has insisted the seizure of the drug-testing records trampled on the medical privacy rights of the athletes and violated federal protections against unreasonable search and seizure. The appeals court in 2006 had overturned rulings in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Nevada in which the federal judges there found the government searches illegal. This recent decision upheld the majority of that previous ruling.
But it did hand the government one setback by concluding that prosecutors botched their appeal of the Los Angeles judge's ruling by filing it too late. As a result, the government may encounter a stumbling block to using some of the seized information out of the Los Angeles case, although the 9th Circuit's ruling appears to give investigators access to virtually all of the testing information they sought.
The 9th Circuit invited both sides to ask the appeals court to rehear the case with an 11-judge panel, which could delay the case.
Elliot Peters, the lawyer for the players' union, said they would need to review the ruling before deciding whether to press another appeal. Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Parrella declined comment.
Federal investigators connected to the Balco case seized computer files in 2004 that contained results from the 2003 testing program, which was designed to evaluate the scope of steroid use in the sport. The players' union and baseball owners had agreed to keep the results of the testing confidential.
The government originally sought the results for 10 players linked to Balco, including Bonds, New York Yankees slugger Jason Giambi and Detroit Tigers outfielder Gary Sheffield. But when investigators seized the records of dozens of other players, it triggered a legal battle pitting government powers to search computer databases with sensitive medical information against the privacy rights of the players.
9th Circuit Judge Sidney Thomas, who dissented in both the 2006 and Thursday's rulings, warned that allowing the searches would have "profound consequences for the constitutional right against illegal search and seizure."