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August 28, 2009

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Court raps agents for seizure of infamous MLB drug list

A FEDERAL appeals court sided with the players on Wednesday, ruling federal agents were wrong to seize the infamous drug list and samples of 104 Major League Baseball players who allegedly tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003.

The decision is a victory for the players' union, which argued for years to have the results destroyed and is still fighting leaks from the material, which was supposed to be anonymous and later was sealed by the courts.

"This was an obvious case of deliberate overreaching by the government in an effort to seize data as to which it lacked probable cause," Chief Judge Alex Kozinski wrote in the 9-2 decision of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, California.

Barring a last-ditch appeal to the US Supreme Court, the test results and samples will be destroyed, and prosecutors cannot use the information. Union lawyers said the government returned the evidence shortly after earlier trial court rulings.

The panel said federal agents trampled on players' protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, though the ruling came too late to spare players linked to the list, including New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez and Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, who admitted they were on it.

Ortiz said he didn't care about the ruling, adding it won't help him almost a month after it was leaked that he was on the list.

Kozinski suggested that the players' union had good reason to want to keep the list under wraps.

"The risk to the players associated with disclosure, and with that the ability of the Players Association to obtain voluntary compliance with drug testing from its members in the future, is very high," the judge wrote. "Indeed, some players appear to have already suffered this very harm as a result of the government's seizure."

The government seized the samples and records in April 2004 from MLB's drug-testing companies as part of the BALCO probe into Barry Bonds and others. The list of 104 players said to have tested positive, attached to a grand jury subpoena, has been part of a five-year legal fight, with the players' union trying to force the government to return what federal agents took during raids.


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