By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
A California Superior Court judge ruled on Tuesday against Kayle Leogrande (Rock Racing) in a lawsuit filed by him against Suzanne Sonye for slander. Sonye's lawyer filed a motion to strike the lawsuit citing special protection under anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) laws arguing that it was only meant to intimidate Sonye from testifying against Leogrande in an ongoing arbitration by the US Anti-Doping Agency.
"Suzanne is very happy and she looks forward to putting this all behind her," said Tom Fitzgibbon, Sonye's attorney. "We think the judge got it right, in our minds.
Leogrande's lawyer Howard Jacobs declined to comment on the decision or any arbitration.
Jacobs filed the lawsuit in April over a phone call between Sonye, then a soigneur for Rock Racing, and former professional cyclist and anti-doping activist Matt Decanio. Decanio recorded the phone call in which Sonye retold the story of Leogrande admitting to doping practices and posted it on his anti-doping web site. Decanio was also named in the lawsuit, but the judge did not rule on either of his responses which do not involve the anti-SLAPP protection. Decanio is representing himself in the proceeding.
The strike motion's grounds for the anti-SLAPP protection come from Sonye serving as a witness against Leogrande in the upcoming USADA arbitration. Sonye signed an affidavit for USADA in November of 2007 in which is says she had first-hand knowledge of Loegrande contaminating a USADA sample as well as Leogrande's doping practices, including use of testosterone and Erythropoietin (EPO).
In the affidavit Sonye said Leogrande made these admissions to her during the 2007 Superweek series and that she alerted management as to what to do. Leogrande's first lawsuit against USADA in January, at that time a "John Doe" anonymous lawsuit, was seeking a block to USADA's testing of a B sample. It was revealed by the AP that the samples were from the 2007 Superweek series and that it belonged to Leogrande.
USADA wanted to test the B sample because the A sample was contaminated, just as Leogrande had divulged to Sonye. Leogrande's lawyers argued that since the A sample had no adverse analytical finding, regardless of whether or not the sample was even testable, that USADA rules do not allow the B sample to be tested.
Court documents in this current lawsuit indicated that the USADA arbitration against Leogrande is moving forward. Meanwhile Leogrande continues to race for Rock Racing, most recently at the USPRO criterium championship, finishing sixth.
The judge Michael Harwin did not make a ruling on the attorney's fees that each side was seeking, instead scheduling a case management hearing for September 2 to give the sides time to work out an agreement. "He is deferring ruling on attorney's fees until later and asked us to reach our own settlement," said Fitzgibbon.