CNN just posted my iReport about the Lance Armstrong whistleblower lawsuit.
It looks like somebody violated a court order to leak the lawsuit to the
press before it was unsealed. Who did it? And why?
If you have read or heard the news in the last week, you can’t help
but know that Thursday night Lance Armstrong is supposed to confess to
doping on the Oprah Winfrey network. Since I’m a whistleblower lawyer,
I was very interested when the Wall Street Journal published a story claiming
that Floyd Landis, Armstrong’s former teammate, had filed a False
Claims Act lawsuit against Armstrong and, “according to the person
who has seen it, [also against] Thom Weisel, the former chairman of the
management company that owned Armstrong’s cycling team, and Johan
Bruyneel, his longtime team director.” Armstrong’s cycling
team had a sponsorship contract with the United States Postal Service.
Apparently the suit accuses the trio of knowing that team members were
doping, which violated the USPS contract, and yet accepting $ 30.6 million
in sponsorship money. The Landis case was filed in 2010, but has been
under seal all this time.
And that was when the whistleblower lawyer in me thought: Whoa! Stop the
reel! Say what?
The case is still under seal? Yet some “person who has seen it”
is talking to the media? Who? And why? I’m a lawyer who represents
whistleblowers, so for me that was the head scratcher in the story.
The way that whistleblower cases work is that the “relator”
(whistleblower) files suit on behalf of the Government, saying the Government
was defrauded. The whistleblower can get a percentage of what the Government
gets back as a result of the lawsuit.
But the False Claims Act is very specific – in order to give the
Government a chance to investigate the claims, the whistleblower has to
file the case “in camera” and “under seal.” Since
American courts are public, when the whistleblower files the case he has
to get an order from the court sealing the case. By federal court order,
no one is allowed to talk about the suit – even to the defendant
— unless the court lifts the order.
If the government reaches a point in its investigation when it wants to
talk to the defendant about the allegations, it asks the court for a “partial
lifting of the seal.” We know that must have happened here, because
the article says that Armstrong is in negotiations with the Government.
But a partial lift only allows the Government to show the case to the
defendant. With that one exception, the complaint is still under seal.
So who is the person who is violating the court order and talking to the
press? We know it’s not someone who just hacked a computer and got
hold of the Complaint. The source has to be an insider, because he knew
that Armstrong and the Government are having settlement talks, but are
“nowhere near an agreement.”
Unless something unusual has happened in the litigation, right now only
four groups should know about the lawsuit: the whistleblower Landis; the
defendants Armstrong, Weisel and Bruyneel; the Government; and the Court.
So which one leaked the lawsuit? And since the case was supposed to come
out in two days, why would anyone do that?
More on my speculations on that in my next post. If you have ideas, please
post them on my CNN iReport,
Who Leaked the Lance Armstrong Lawsuit Story?