PORTLAND, Maine — Last month, Egyptian Caroline Maher was inducted into the prestigious Taekwondo Hall of Fame. But if her sport’s governing body had gotten its way more than two years earlier, she would’ve been kicked out of competition.
That’s where Portland attorney Paul Greene came in.
Greene, a former sports broadcaster who has transformed himself into a go-to legal ally for some of the world’s most renowned Olympians, is officially unveiling his specialized law firm, Global Sports Advocates, on Wednesday.
“An Egyptian woman, Caroline Maher, cold-called me about three years ago,” recalled Greene, who at the time worked at the law firm Preti Flaherty, of one of his most memorable cases. “She told me she had been found guilty of doping by the international agency governing her sport without a hearing or evidence.”
The more the attorney looked into it, the more he saw through the World Taekwondo Federation’s case. He appealed it to the Court of Arbitration for Sport — sometimes called the “Supreme Court of Sports” — in Switzerland.
After hearing Greene’s case, that the federation banned Maher from competing for two years without a reliable drug test or hearing, the court ordered the Taekwondo organization to lift its punishment and pay the athlete $20,000.
While in the United States, use of performance-enhancing drugs has made baseball stars like the New York Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez into villains in the court of public opinion, Greene said it’s important to remember that on the global stage, sports leagues and drug testers can be overzealous.
“Not every case is going to be Caroline Maher, a woman who was wrongly accused — clearly — of doping and we were able to get her money back and change her life,” Greene said. “That’s not going to happen every day. But I will say, in a general sense, having somebody advocate for you, no matter what the case is, is critical. If you don’t have a lawyer on your side, you’re still going to have somebody on the other side trying to hammer you and take advantage of the fact that you don’t have that expertise.”
The attorney said he can even sympathize with Rodriguez, who isn’t a client of his. The All-Star third baseman was initially suspended for 211 games by Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig for his role in the sport’s ongoing drug abuse scandal.
That suspension was reduced last month to 162 games — the length of the entire 2014 season — by arbitrator Frederic Horowitz.
“In this case, he should get the sanction that is appropriate in the rules that govern baseball,” Greene said. “To me, the legal issue isn’t whether he doped, the question is what the sanction should be. Why did Bud Selig give him 211 games? What was the basis for that, and what was the basis for Horowitz giving him 162 games?”
The attorney said the most Rodriguez, who is popularly known as A-Rod, could have gotten under the World Anti-Doping Code was a 100-game suspension. Major League Baseball policies include 50-game suspensions for players caught using performance enhancing drugs the first time.
“A-Rod’s lawyers are arguing that he should get 50 games, if he should get anything,” Greene said.
Greene was part of the FOX51 sports desk before the station abruptly canceled its local news program in 2002, then spent two years working on a CBS college sports show before deciding to go back to school at the University of Maine School of Law.
“I was married, I had a child, and we had a second child while I was in law school,” he recalled. “It was tough on me financially, it was tough on me emotionally. I had been out of school for years. While I was out, all the tables grew laptops, while I was taking notes in a notebook.”
Greene said that although he never envisioned a second career as a lawyer when he was working at FOX51, in retrospect he considers broadcasting a good training ground for the legal profession.
“I think communications was a great background for a career in law,” he said. “I think the ability to go before a court or before arbitrators and communicate is a valuable skill.
“All those years working in locker rooms and talking to athletes helps as well,” Greene continued. “Whoever your client is, you have to be able to represent them and not be an awe of them. Just like if you’re a broadcaster, you’ve got to do your job, you can’t just be asking Tom Brady for his autograph.”
Among Greene’s clients over the years was swimmer Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time with 22 medals.
The attorney helped wrest the website domain name www.MichaelPhelpsFoundation.com out of the hands of a “cyber squatter,” somebody who registers famous domain names in hopes of forcing celebrities to pay big money to have them back.
Greene, who has been listed as one of the world’s best attorneys by industry publications such as Chambers USA and Super Lawyers, is now representing star Jamaican sprinter Asafa Powell against charges he used banned performance enhancers.
Greene — a resident of Falmouth, where he coaches youth sports — said he doesn’t shy away from cases that are high-profile or might involve athletes getting a black eye in the media.
He said there are always two sides to every story.
“Whether it’s a business case, an entertainment case, a sports case or just a person from Maine, when they’re calling me, they’re really in a tough spot,” he said. “It’s your job to help them get out of it, and when you can do that, it’s a great feeling.”