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  Harding Files $20M Lawsuit Against the USOC

By Serge Kovaleski
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 10, 1994; Page D1




PORTLAND, Ore., Feb. 9 — Attorneys for figure skater Tonya Harding sued the U.S. Olympic Committee late today, seeking $20 million and a court order to block a hearing that could prevent her from participating in the Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

The 16-page suit, filed in Clackamas County Circuit Court, seeks a temporary restraining order to block the USOC's Games Administrative Board from holding a hearing on Harding's Olympic eligibility on Tuesday in Oslo. Robert C. Weaver, one of Harding's attorneys, said he expected a hearing Thursday or Friday on the request for a temporary restraining order.

The suit contends that Harding has not been charged with a crime, that the USOC does not have the power to discipline Harding and that a USOC hearing would deny Harding adequate due process.

"We are asking a judge to see whether the hearing procedure satisfied the due process component of the law," Weaver said late tonight. "It's the same notion of due process that you would find in the 14th Amendment."

The suit states that while people close to Harding — including her former husband, Jeff Gillooly — have been charged in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on rival skater Nancy Kerrigan, Harding has not been charged with a crime. The suit further states that Harding has abided by the codes and standards of the USOC and the U.S. Figure Skating Association. The suit seeks $20 million in punitive damages as well as compensatory damages to be determined at trial.

The suit contends the USOC does not have the power to discipline an athlete for actions that occurred before he or she was a member of the U.S. Olympic team. Harding officially became a member of the team when the roster was submitted by the USOC to the International Olympic Committee on Jan. 31.

The suit also claims the USOC hearing does not provide Harding adequate due process because Harding was denied: Adequate notice of the charges. Reasonable time in which to prepare a defense. A time and place for the hearing that make it practicable for Harding to attend. A hearing before an impartial group of fact-finders. The effective assistance of counsel. The opportunity to call witnesses and require their attendance. The opportunity to confront and cross-examine witnesses. Adequate written notice of an appeals process.

"It presents a situation where it is very difficult to defend yourself," Brian T. Burton, another of Harding's attorneys, said late tonight.

The suit also claims Harding is, in effect, put in jeopardy twice for the same alleged misconduct.

The suit further claims the board has no jurisdiction in this matter because, according to its bylaws, the board has power only over appeals in matters such as team selection conflicts that are not resolved before athletes arrive at the Olympic site.

The suit states that unless the hearing is blocked, Harding's "reputation and career will be unfairly destroyed, all to her irreparable damage and financial detriment" and accuses the USOC of wanting to "rush to judgment" at the expense of Harding's rights.

"USOC's conduct is arbitrary, capricious, malicious and contrary to law in fact," the suit charges.

USOC Executive Director Harvey Schiller said early Thursday morning from Norway that the USOC had "anticipated some action" by Harding's lawyers. "We are prepared to defend ourselves," he told the Associated Press. He declined further comment until USOC officials in Norway received details of the suit.

Meanwhile, early Thursday morning, law enforcement sources said that the analysis of the handwriting sample that was submitted by Harding matches some of the writing on an envelope found in a Dumpster outside a Portland restaurant. The phone number, address and name of the rink where Kerrigan trains in Cape Cod, Mass., were written on the envelope. The handwriting report, prepared by forensic document examiner Robert Peschka, is expected to be delivered to the Multnomah County district attorney's office by early next week.

Sources close to the lawsuit said Harding's attorneys filed in Clackamas County Circuit Court, in suburban Oregon City — rather than in Multnomah County, where a grand jury is hearing evidence in the case — because they felt they had a better chance of success with any of the half-dozen judges sitting there.

Sources also said Harding will likely travel to Norway late next week, possibly as late as Saturday, Feb. 19. The USOC must submit the names of the two skaters who will represent the United States in the women's competition on Feb. 21. The competition is Feb. 23 and 25.

Earlier today, Schiller confirmed that Gillooly had been asked to make himself available to appear before the board.

Gillooly, 26, has pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering in connection with the Jan. 6 assault on Kerrigan and has said that Harding was deeply involved in the conspiracy to injure her rival skater. Harding has said that she had no knowledge of the plot until several days after the assault. Three other men have also been charged in the alleged plot.

Sources said that the USFSA, which will hold a similar proceeding next month, is also expected to ask Harding's former husband to attend.

In a letter to Harding's attorneys, the USOC reportedly outlined seven charges concerning her conduct in relation to the ethics and sportsmanship policies of the USFSA, the USOC and the IOC.

In a motion filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court today, Gillooly's attorney, Ronald H. Hoevet, requested that his client be permitted to travel to Oslo to attend Tuesday's hearing.

"We are willing but my client is not anxious to go," Hoevet said today. "He doesn't view it as a fun trip. He views it as an obligation. He believes that by cooperating it will demonstrate remorse."

But in a letter to USOC attorney Peter C. Alkalay, Hoevet outlined several conditions, including demands that the USOC pay for his and his client's air fares and hotel accommodations and cover Gillooly's attorneys fees at the rate of $200 an hour.

Schiller said today that the hearing could cost the USOC $200,000.

A hearing on Hoevet's motion is scheduled for Thursday in circuit court. Under Oregon law, anyone charged with a felony must get court approval to leave the state.

The court will also take up a second motion filed by Hoevet today requesting that the results of an FBI polygraph test Gillooly took on Feb. 4 be made public. Hoevet said that disclosure would help his client prepare for sentencing on April 1 and is "in the interest of justice" since he may be asked to make the findings available at the Oslo hearing.

USOC spokesman Mike Moran said today from Lillehammer that Gillooly is one of a "great number of people" who are being approached to testify at the hearing, if asked.

In a statement, attorney Clayton Lance, who is representing one of the co-defendants in the case, Derrick Brian Smith, said that they have not been contacted about appearing before the hearing. As of this afternoon, another co-defendant, Shane Stant, had not been approached either. Calls to Shawn Eckardt's lawyer, Mark McKnight, were not returned.

Sources close to the case said the USOC will also likely ask representatives from the FBI and the Multnomah County sheriff's office to testify at the hearing.

Meanwhile, Moran said that Harding has yet to contact the U.S. delegation to request airplane and hotel reservations for Lillehammer, as is standard practice for U.S. athletes, whose travel expenses are picked up by the USOC.

"She has no reservations to our knowledge. ... She has not contacted our team leaders as to any definite travel date," Moran said. "I can't remember any athlete of ours in modern history paying their own way to the Olympics."

In a two-part interview with "Inside Edition" — to be aired Thursday and Friday — Harding vowed to win the gold medal and "hang it on my wall forever," and said she is looking forward to seeing Kerrigan.

"I'll tell her that I'm really sorry that this happened and that I always wish her the best and, hopefully, she'll forgive me for all this crap that's going on. Maybe [I'll] give her a hug. If she'll let me."

Kerrigan, meanwhile, passed through Washington today on her way to Lillehammer, changing planes at Dulles Airport en route to Brussels and then to Oslo. Kerrigan, who was mobbed by reporters, cameramen and well-wishers, was asked what she thought of all the attention the case has received.

"Ridiculous," she said.

Staff writer Christine Brennan in Lillehammer and special correspondent Mark Fitzhenry in Washington contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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