February 29, 2012 6:07 PM

Wilmer Partner Enters Ryan Braun Drug-Testing Drama

Posted by Brian Baxter

The fallout continues from last week’s stunning arbitration ruling overturning a Major League Baseball–imposed 50-game suspension against Milwaukee Brewers star Ryan Braun for his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs, with another high-profile lawyer pulled into the fray.

Boyd Johnson III, a former deputy U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York who joined Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr last September, is now representing the embattled drug tester whose name was leaked to the media in the wake of Braun’s arbitration win.

Dino Laurenzi, Jr., an employee of Comprehensive Drug Testing since 2005, issued a three-page statement via Johnson on Tuesday in which he maintained that he followed the appropriate protocol and disputed allegations that he may have tampered with the results of a urine sample taken from Braun after a playoff game last October. The Am Law Daily called Johnson Wednesday morning for comment on how he came to represent Laurenzi, but did not immediately hear back.

Santa Ana, California–based Comprehensive Drug Testing is no stranger to controversy. The company was previously caught up in litigation related to the seizure by federal agents of the results of confidential tests conducted on 104 current and former MLB players during the 2003 season.

The MLB Players Association and its outside lawyers received a major win in the case when an en banc panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in the union’s favor in August 2009, saying authorities had improperly seized the contested samples.

As previously reported by The Am Law Daily, the players union has spent millions of dollars over the past five years on attorneys from more than 25 firms in its effort to cope with the increased focus on performance-enhancing drug use. The league, meanwhile, hired DLA Piper chairman emeritus George Mitchell, Jr., to conduct an internal investigation that consumed more than two years and millions in legal fees, according to our previous reports.

With the image of MLB and its players suffering as information on illicit drug use leaked out in books, magazine stories, newspaper reports, and federal investigations, the league and the MLBPA made sure their latest labor deal, which was approved in November and extends through 2016, included blood testing for human growth hormone.

Braun, who turned to veteran sports lawyer Wm. David Cornwell, Sr., of Atlanta’s DNK Cornwell to represent him before a three-member arbitration panel mandated to hear his appeal under baseball’s collective bargaining agreement, said at a press conference earlier this week that MLB’s drug testing process was “fatally flawed.”

Leaked to the media in December, the results of Braun’s test showed extremely high levels of synthetic testosterone. Those results notwithstanding, last week’s 2-to-1 arbitration ruling in Braun’s favor made the National League’s reigning Most Valuable Player the first player in MLB history to successfully appeal the results of a test for performance-enhancing drugs and overturn a league suspension.

The three-member panel that heard Braun’s case consisted of MLBPA executive director—and former general counsel—Michael Weiner, former Morgan, Lewis  Bockius partner and current league executive vice president for labor relations and human resources Robert Manfred, Jr., and veteran arbitrator Shyam Das, who cast the deciding vote clearing Braun.

According to annual reports filed by the MLBPA with the U.S. Department of Labor, the union paid Das more than $160,000 between 2006 and 2010—the last year for which records are available—to handle 19 arbitration cases under the league’s collective bargaining agreement. Das, the chair of baseball’s arbitration panel since 1999, receives identical payments from the league.

While there has been speculation that Das sided with Braun in order to remain employed by the union—which, like the league, has the power to fire him—baseball’s unique form of binding arbitration makes that unlikely. (For more on the legal particulars surrounding the Braun ruling, check out the ongoing coverage by HardballTalk’s Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports, who we’ve previously noted once worked at Squire Sanders and Thompson Hine.)

Braun lawyer Cornwell, with whom we’ve previously spoken about his high-profile sports clients, isn’t limiting himself to baseball-related conflicts these days. He also made waves for criticizing the National Football League Players Association’s leadership in an 11-page letter issued during Super Bowl week.

The NFLPA has nonetheless agreed to support Cornwell in his new position as executive director of the NFL Coaches Association, a post formally announced last week. While declining to comment on the Braun case, Cornwell recently spoke with NBC Sports about the differences in the drug testing policies employed by MLB and the NFL.

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