SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- A federal appeals court on Monday reaffirmed its ruling that investigators illegally seized a list of baseball players who allegedly tested positive for steroids during a 2004 drug lab raid.
It's the fourth time the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled on the issue during six years of litigation. Three trial courts also have issued separate rulings in the case.
On Monday, the 11-judge panel again ordered investigators to return the list of 104 players to the labs, effectively barring them from using the players to expand their sports doping investigation.
The appeals court was revisiting its August 2009 ruling at the request of the Obama administration. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, who was solicitor general at the time, and 22 other high-ranking federal lawyers told the court last year that "computer searches have ground to a complete halt" in many regions of the country because of strict guidelines the court told judges to follow when authorizing searches of computers.
Those guidelines were removed from Monday's ruling, which was far narrower in scope than the August ruling.
The convoluted case began in April 2004 when agents seized urine samples and records from Comprehensive Drug Testing Inc. and Quest Diagnostics Inc. They were armed with a search warrant authorizing them to seize the results of 10 players. But the agents seized an entire hard drive and retrieved a spreadsheet with the names of 104 players who allegedly tested positive during the 2003 Major League Baseball season. Those test results were supposed to remain anonymous and were to be used only to determine if baseball should institute mandatory drug testing.
The players' union went to court almost immediately after the raids, complaining that the raids were illegal and asking that the records and samples be returned.
Three different trial judges ruled in favor of the union, but a divided three judge panel of the 9th circuit in 2006 ruled in favor of the government. But a larger, 11-judge panel voted 9-2 in August 2009 and again Monday that the government was wrong to seize the entire list.
The 9th Circuit on Monday also closed its doors to any further appeals.
The government still could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. U.S. Attorney spokesman Jack Gillund declined comment.
Although the names of the players in dispute have remained under seal during all the legal wrangling and were to remain confidential, the identities of four have been leaked to the media: Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and Sammy Sosa.
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