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For athletes accused of taking drugs, a Perry Mason of their own

Attorney Howard Jacobs, who has defended athletes from Marion Jones to US swimmer Jessica Hardy, believes the system is tilted too much toward antidoping agencies.

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On one side is a tsunami of officials, lawyers, law-enforcement agents, scientists, and rules bent on banishing performance-enhancing drugs from sports. On the other side is a man dressed in simple khaki pants and a polo shirt, sitting behind a wooden desk here in this posh Los Angeles suburb.

Meet Howard Jacobs, perhaps the preeminent US defense lawyer for athletes who have been accused of using illegal drugs. Track stars Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery sought him out when they were accused of doping. So did top US cyclists Tyler Hamilton and since-defrocked 2006 Tour de France champ Floyd Landis, as well as bobsledders, swimmers, and others.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Jacobs has faced a deluge of criticism for standing with them – not least of all from those within the powerful antidoping establishment. To some, he is the equivalent of a mob lawyer – a man who represents people who have cheated the system and, perhaps worse, cheated the world’s youth of the ideals they’re taught about sports and fair play.

But Jacobs, a former triathlete, is resolute. He believes many athletes are unfairly accused of cheating and, once tagged, wear the equivalent of a scarlet letter. He has become a human megaphone for pointing out flaws in a system he sees as tilted toward those who level charges – a job that carries a similar risk.

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