Judge Guides Skating's Compromise Resolution
By Christine Spolar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 14, 1994; Page C7
PORTLAND, Ore., Feb. 13 The biggest controversy in U.S. Olympic history was resolved for now, at least by fax and by phone and by a soft-spoken judge who nudged teams of attorneys to agree on one point: Tonya Harding should skate at the Games in Lillehammer, Norway.
Negotiations that triumphed over time zones and temperaments ended after more than seven hours of shuttle diplomacy between the teams of attorneys, overseen by Circuit Judge Patrick D. Gilroy, a Clackamas County judge known by lawyers here for his mediation skills.
Four men including Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly have been charged in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on skater Nancy Kerrigan in Detroit at the U.S. Olympic trials. Kerrigan was unable to compete; Harding won the competition. Kerrigan was subsequently given the second spot on the U.S. team.
Gillooly has alleged that Harding was in on the planning and cover-up of the plot to injure Kerrigan; Harding denies that accusation. She has not been charged.
Time was on Harding's side. The life of the grand jury weighing evidence in the case has been extended until March 31. The U.S. Figure Skating Association formed a five-member panel to hear evidence in the Harding flap. It ruled that Harding had violated the USFSA's rules of ethics and sportsmanship, but stopped short of suspending her, calling instead for a disciplinary hearing that will take place after the Olympics.
Harding's final obstacle to her Olympic dream, therefore, was the USOC. It called for a Games Administrative Board hearing on Harding's Olympic eligibility; she countered with a $20 million lawsuit. That set the stage for Saturday's compromise.
"We had a good judge," said Peter Susemihl, the USOC's lead counsel. "It was clear when he took us into chambers, he was going to help us get this resolved."
"Judge Gilroy puts a lot of effort into trying to resolve things without courtroom confrontations," said Brian Burton, one of three attorneys representing Harding during the Saturday negotiations. "That's what he did in this case. ... He ran it like a typical mediation. He never let on what the other side wanted."
At about 3:30 p.m. in Portland about 12:30 a.m. in Lillehammer lawyers emerged from a small country courthouse in Oregon City to announce that Harding would compete in the women's event on Feb. 23 and 25 and that the skater had abandoned her suit against the USOC.
The decision in Oregon came hours after thousands of athletes thousands of miles away trooped into the Lysgardsbakkene ski jumping arena to celebrate the opening of the Games. It came days after U.S. officials in Norway began privately discussing how to best quell the controversy that had eclipsed the Games that are supposed to represent good will and sportsmanship.
The focus now shifts to what will happen when America's top two women figure skaters meet at center ice in Hamar, site of the figure skating competition. Harding is expected to skate her last practice here Monday and, according to reports, is scheduled to leave Tuesday for Norway.
The drama on this side of the Atlantic Ocean ended with a Saturday morning meeting set by Gilroy. Gilroy, according to attorneys involved in the case, called a meeting for the attorneys at 8 a.m., and then separated the two teams into different rooms within his chambers.
Gilroy, a 6-foot-4 judge with a calm demeanor, wore casual slacks and a sweater to the negotiations, cutting a less imposing figure, attorneys said. He methodically questioned each side privately about which issues were most important to their clients.
Harding remained in the suburban Portland apartment of her best friend, Stephanie Quintero, and Quintero's husband, John. Harding was apprised of events by phone, attorney Burton said today. Olympic officials, attending Opening Ceremonies in Lillehammer, were kept abreast of events by phone and by fax, said Susemihl. Each side worked through lunch; they sent out for roast beef and turkey sandwiches.
The talks reached a turning point at about 12:30 p.m. Saturday when Harding, through her attorney, told the judge she would drop her suit against the USOC if the USOC would drop its opposition and let her skate in the Olympics.
Within an hour, USOC officials agreed. The next two hours were spent drawing up public statements that each side could agree would be fair. Each proposed statement was faxed to Lillehammer for approval by the USOC board, which remained together after the Opening Ceremonies in anticipation of the announcement.
"The point was everybody was trying to be neutral in their statements," Burton said. "If there was something one party wanted to say and the other side got defensive we'd work it out."
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