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  USOC Asks Court to Dismiss Suit

By Serge Kovaleski
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 11, 1994; Page C1




PORTLAND, Ore., Feb. 10 — Lawyers for the U.S. Olympic Committee asked a court to dismiss Tonya Harding's $25 million lawsuit today, claiming Congress gave it sole authority to decide who competes in the Games.

In documents filed in Clackamas County Court, the USOC said the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 gave it "exclusive jurisdiction to resolve disputes covering the eligibility for and participation in the Olympic Games." The committee also said the selection to the U.S. Olympic team "is an honor and a privilege" and not a right enforceable by the courts.

But a USOC attorney said: "I don't know how vigorously the [USOC] committee will pursue the courts. Working out some kind of deal with Harding that would allow her to skate is certainly a possibility."

The USOC submitted more than 100 pages supporting its position just minutes before the Clackamas County Circuit Court closed. It submitted the response to a suit filed by Harding's attorneys Wednesday in which the skater is seeking $20 million in punitive damages and at least $5 million in compensatory damages and a temporary restraining order to block the USOC's Games Administrative Board from holding a hearing in Oslo next week on her Olympic eligibility. A hearing on Harding's request was set for Friday, one day before the Games begin.

The 100-page document from the USOC asks the court to throw out Harding's suit on the basis that the 23-year-old figure skater has violated the committee's seven points of conduct.

Also today, the USOC abruptly backed away from asking Harding's former husband, Jeff Gillooly, to testify at the eligibility proceeding scheduled for Tuesday.

USOC attorney Peter C. Alkalay had asked Gillooly's lawyer, Ronald H. Hoevet, to make his client available to attend the hearing. But today, just over 12 hours after Harding's attorneys sued the USOC, Executive Director Harvey Schiller said Gillooly's presence would not be requested.

Schiller also said if the hearing is allowed to go on, and Harding doesn't attend, the board could proceed and rule on Harding's Olympic fate without her.

"It could," Schiller said. "Nobody said that that couldn't happen."

Regarding Gillooly, Hoevet withdrew his motion during a hearing in Multnomah County Circuit Court today requesting that a judge grant Gillooly permission to leave the country to testify. Hoevet said the USOC never contacted him about its change of heart, but heard the news this morning on the radio.

"They [USOC] apparently have trouble speaking with one voice," said deputy chief district attorney Norman Frink.

Gillooly has pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on Nancy Kerrigan in Detroit and said his ex-wife was involved in the conspiracy to injure the rival skater. Harding has said that she did not know about the plot until several days after the assault.

Harding's attorneys said in accompanying documents to her motion for a restraining order that "the result is inevitable: the USOC will remove Ms. Harding from the team unless she rebuts charges at a hearing scheduled so soon and so far away that she cannot attend and present her defense.

"At this extraordinary hearing, the USOC has assigned itself the role of prosecutor, judge and jury, with no appeal ... a combination rejected since the birth of this nation."

In an affidavit, Harding said that she cannot afford to pay for her attorneys and witnesses to attend the hearing in Oslo. "As a result, I will not have the opportunity to be assisted in the presentation of my case, to confront and cross examine adverse witnesses and to present oral and written evidence," she states in the affidavit.

The documents also asserted that Harding has abided by the codes and standards of the USOC and the U.S. Figure Skating Association and consequently has done nothing to warrant being removed from the team.

Harding's coach of 18 years, Diane Rawlinson, said in a separate affidavit, "To require Ms. Harding to appear at hearings several hours from the site of her training within 10 days" of her first scheduled performance "will make final preparations for the competition impossible."

The filings by Harding's attorneys were at times melodramatic and presumptuous. One of the documents said "despite a life of poverty, this Beavercreek [Ore.] girl now skates better than anyone in the country."

The documents contend that the hearing would deny Harding adequate due process and would do irreparable damage to her career.

Harding's suit is in part based on the fact that she has not been charged with a crime. The documents also charge that by calling Harding to the hearing, the USOC has breached its contractual obligation to protect the right of its athletes.

Additionally, the documents said that the USOC does not have the jurisdiction to hold such a proceeding because its bylaws allow it to take action only on matters that happen at the site of the Olympics.

"The USOC must withstand the pressure of the media's 'feeding frenzy' and adhere to the American values of fairness and justice."

The documents also argued that the USOC is not an impartial body in this matter. The motion cites a recent quote from USOC President Leroy Walker in which he reportedly said, "We have to make a decision without the consideration of whether or not her rights have been abridged."

The motion further contended that if Harding was found guilty in Oslo, it would be impossible for her to get a fair hearing at a similar proceeding that is scheduled for next month before a USFSA panel.

Also today, Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Donald A. Londer ruled that if the district attorney's office was willing to turn over to Hoevet the report on Gillooly's lie detector test that he took on Feb. 4, it could. Londer said it was not within the purview of the court to decide the matter. But he also said he was concerned that the confidential report on the lie detector test could be made public through subpoenas at other proceedings, such as the USFSA's hearing on Harding scheduled for next month. Sources close to the investigation said Gillooly passed the test.

Staff writer Christine Brennan contributed to this report from Lillehammer, Norway.

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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