Meet the Philly Lawyer Repping Maria Sharapova in Her Doping Appeal

Why Newtown's John Haggerty feels the Russian tennis star has a good chance in the upcoming appeal of her 2-year ban from tennis.

John Haggerty courtesy of Fox Rothschild. Maria Sharapova By Valentina Alemanno - <a href="">Flickr</a>, via <a href="" title="Creative Commons Attribution 2.0">CC BY 2.0</a>.

John Haggerty courtesy of Fox Rothschild. Maria Sharapova, by Valentina Alemanno on Flickr, via CC BY 2.0.

The long-awaited conclusion of Maria Sharapova’s drug debacle arrived earlier this month with good news and bad news.

The good: the International Tennis Federation tribunal found her doping violation to be unintentional.

The bad: Sharapova now faces a two-year suspension from tennis, a devastating blow to the now 29-year-old athlete’s career, if upheld.

John Haggerty, a resident of Newtown, has been behind the famous Russian athlete during her recent legal trouble, and for the past decade. A partner at Philadelphia firm Fox Rothschild, Haggerty has been ranked as a leading General Commercial Litigation Lawyer in Ohio and Pennsylvania by Chambers USA. Haggerty became Sharapova’s attorney after previously working on behalf of IMG Worldwide, the agency that represented Sharapova.

“We feel that unfortunately the ITF tribunal overlooked significant evidence and that they were trying to use Maria and her popularity and her high ranking as a tennis player to send a message with regard to anti-doping,” Haggerty told Philadelphia magazine. “So we think she got an unfair suspension as a result of that.” 

In case you haven’t heard, Sharapova, the first Russian female to win Wimbledon and a five-time Grand Slam champion, came into question back in January at the Australian Open, when a drug test revealed her use of a banned substance, Meldonium. The substance is a component of a drug called Mildronate, which Sharapova said she had been taking since 2006.

This is not the final chapter of the story, however. Sharapova can and will appeal the ITF suspension through the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Haggerty remains hopeful that the appeal will yield a different result, primarily due to the structure of the panel. Of the three arbitrators, one will be appointed by Sharapova and one by the ITF. The third will be neutral. Sharapova will select her arbitrator soon, from a CAS approved panel.

“Maria always knew that this was a two-step process,” Haggerty said. “Obviously she was very pleased that she was found not to have intentionally violated the anti-doping rules. But she was disappointed that the suspension was 2 years.”

Sharapova responded in a Facebook post, saying: “While the tribunal concluded correctly that I did not intentionally violate the anti-doping rules, I cannot accept an unfairly harsh two-year suspension. The tribunal, whose members were selected by the ITF, agreed that I did not do anything intentionally wrong, yet they seek to keep me from playing tennis for two years.”

“I intend to stand for what I believe is right and that’s why I will fight to be back on the tennis court as soon as possible.”

Nike and Evian have both decided to stick with the tennis star, lifting the temporary suspensions on her contracts. The support of these major sponsorships may also bolster her appeal.

“I think that it’s very helpful,” said Haggerty, who believes their continued support is likely due to the tribunal’s finding that Sharapova’s violation was unintentional. “That’s a significant point in the world of sports because that shows that Maria did not intend to violate the rules or do anything to violate the integrity of the sport.”