By T. D. Thornton
Back in May, United States District Court Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil was emphatic about wanting to begin trials in the fourth quarter of 2021 for the first of four groupings of 14 defendants in the alleged federal doping conspiracy case. In late August, she even set a Nov. 15 start date for the trial of Seth Fishman, Lisa Giannelli and Jordan Fishman.
But during a Sept. 15 status conference, that schedule got reset to January 2022, meaning that for a number of defendants in the latter groupings, their trials could come more than two years after they were initially arrested and charged in the nationwide performance-enhancing drug sweep that rocked the sport in March 2020.
The reasons for the pushing back of the trials were varied: Conflicts on the calendars of defense attorneys who requested different dates, delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the massive volume of evidence that still needs to be sifted through, and the fact that lawyers have to notify the opposing party about the appearance of any expert witnesses 60 days before the trial begins (a deadline that would have been today).
“I will, reluctantly, grant the request to adjourn the trial to the first quarter of 2022,” Vyskocil said Wednesday morning from her Southern District of New York courtroom while presiding over a hybrid hearing at which some parties appeared in person and others via remote conferencing.
“I will say this, though: On the assumption that some of the COVID restrictions linger, we’re going to end up with a similar kind of a scheduling process for the first quarter [of 2022]. I do not control the trial calendar… So I am telling you now that that case is going to trial in the first quarter, and I will request the earliest slot we can be given… I am not going to listen to, ‘Well, I have something that’s backed up as a second-priority trial in front of another judge.’ You’re all on notice.”
Dates were not set for the latter trial groupings. They are (with defection noted):
Group 2: Christopher Oakes, Marcos Zulueta and Rick Dane, Jr.
Group 3: Jorge Navarro (who has already pled guilty and will instead be sentenced Dec. 17), Erica Garcia, Michael Tannuzzo and Rebecca Linke.
Group 4: Jason Servis, Alexander Chan, Kristian Rhein (pled guilty, to be sentenced Dec. 2) and Michael Kegley (pled guilty, to be sentenced Nov. 22).
The dialogue between the judge and attorneys turned testy at times as they debated the various reasons why counsel wanted the trial dates pushed back.
Vyskocil said she took umbrage that several lawyers seemed to be disrespecting her court order about the original November trial start because they cited commitments to other trials that were scheduled to start after, and not before, the alleged doping case.
And although the court reporter and the judge asked call-in participants dozens of times during the hearing to please keep their phones muted unless they were addressing the court, several remarks by an unidentified–but very much disgruntled–participant were clearly audible during a brief lull in the hearing.
“I don’t like this judge,” said a male voice, who then berated Vyskocil, apparently unaware his remarks were being heard by everyone on the call.
Tactfully but tersely, Vyskocil called him out by stating only his phone number and asked him to mute his line.