The dispute between Greg LeMond and Trek moved closer to a jury trial yesterday when US District Court Judge Richard Kyle heard arguments connected to the case, and deferred ruling on two summary judgment motions.
He suggested that both parties consider an out-of-court settlement in order to avoid what could be an explosive trial next spring.
"We're certainly not averse to settling it," said LeMond’s attorney Jamie DiBoise, according to the New York Daily News. Trek attorney Ralph Weber indicated that both sides would meet soon to decide availability for settlement talks.
If those talks fail, the trial would take place in Minnesota next March. Judge Kyle reportedly indicated that allegations about Lance Armstrong would be part of that trial, and that the multiple Tour winner could be requested to appear.
It is likely Armstrong could refuse, as distance limitations would mean the court does not have the power to subpoena him.
LeMond and Trek commenced their partnership in 1995 but relations became rocky when the triple Tour de France winner made comments about Armstrong, starting in 2001. He publicly questioned the Texan’s ties to the controversial Italian doctor Michele Ferrari.
LeMond alleges in the legal summons and complaint sent to Trek in March 2008 that Armstrong used his connections with Trek to get the company to put pressure on him to be silent.
He also claims that the company effectively dropped its support for his brand, leading to a decrease in sales. As an example, he claims that between September of 2001 and June of 2007, Trek only sold US$10,393 worth of his bikes in France.
Last month, Armstrong’s ex-wife Kristin was deposed by LeMond’s legal team in order to answer questions. She gave a sworn, videotaped deposition during which she repeatedly refused to answer questions pertaining to alleged drug use by Armstrong.
Trek’s counter-claim against LeMond is based around their argument that his public statements harmed the company name and business.
"Trek and its dealers were damaged for millions of dollars as a result of lost sales because of the anger of customers over the comments about individual athletes," said Weber yesterday.
According to the Daily News, Judge Kyle asked two hypothetical questions at the latest hearing. The first related to a statement LeMond made in 2001: "If Lance is clean, it is the greatest comeback in the history of sports. If he isn't, it would be the greatest fraud."
Judge Kyle asked how Trek would have acted if LeMond had simply said ‘no comment’ when he was asked about the Sunday Times’ questioning of Armstrong and Ferrari.
He also asked if Trek would still have a case if Armstrong tested positive for illegal or banned performance-enhancing drugs.
Kathy LeMond told the newspaper: "We were very happy with the summary judgment hearing. Judge Kyle raised some very interesting hypothetical questions and we were grateful for his thoughtful questions."
Trek attorney Webber clarified the company’s position: "Trek has always supported Greg in his comments about doping in general – those comments are fine, but the specific attacks on individual athletes were not. ‘No comment' would have been a preferable statement to attacks on specific athletes. Trek would have been okay with that."
The two sides are now expected to have talks about a possible settlement. If an out-of-court agreement is not reached, it is likely that this battle will continue in the courts in four months' time.