A West Virginia circuit court has overturned the West Virginia Racing Commission's call for fines and suspensions for seven riders involved in a scandal alleging improperly reported riding weights at Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races.
The court decision likely brings to an end the drawn-out case that saw jurisdictional disputes between the track and the state regulator reach the state Supreme Court of Appeals, which determined permit-holders ejected by racetracks have the right to appeal those ejections through the WVRC. The initial case dates back to March 2009.
The Sept. 2 decision by the Kanawha County Circuit Court overturns the $1,000 fines and 30-day suspensions that had been assigned to seven Charles Town riders who the WVRC said had acquiesced to a system that allowed adulterated weights to be reported. In sanctioning the riders, the racing commission had determined that even though there was no evidence of conspiracy between the riders and the clerk of scales, the riders had "connived" in the commission of a "corrupt" process.
The circuit court overturned the final WVRC ruling after it determined that in providing definition of "connive" and "corrupt" during its ruling process, the regulator was "creating and promulgating rules, not interpreting words in a rule according to their common everyday meaning." In short, the court determined that the rule used to sanction the riders was not clearly defined, and the commission then applied its own interpretation to the unclear rule, which amounted to rulemaking during the adjudicatory process.
"We could not be happier for our brave clients," said the riders' Charleston-based attorney, Benjamin Bailey, in the Guild release. "This decision vindicates their character and sportsmanship. Their long saga will benefit the entire racing community in West Virginia, setting the standards and procedures to be applied to racing licensees."
The court determined that the commission's interpretation of the rule amounted to "an ex post facto law," which is forbidden by the state constitution. The court also determined there was no evidence "which would tend to show the weigh-out procedures described in the record actually caused any loss of confidence in the integrity of the processes associated with Thoroughbred racing."
The ruling ends the sanctions that had been assigned, but held up through injunction until the judicial process played out, against riders Luis Perez, Anthony Mawing, Dale Whitaker, Larry Reynolds, Jesus Sanchez, Alexis Rios-Conde, and Tony Maragh.
"We are pleased with the court's decision," Jockeys' Guild national manager Terry Meyocks said in a release. "The riders have had to fight a tremendous battle and have had their reputations called into question. We hope that this decision will set the record straight and it will be recognized that none of the jockeys violated the rules of racing, nor did they do anything that would be considered illegal or defrauding the betting public.
"However, it should recognized that since the circumstances of the case arose, the Guild has worked closely with the West Virginia Racing Commission in improving the rules and regulations. We have developed a good working relationship with the commission."
The court recounted evidence gathered through videotape surveillance collected in early 2009 by the track that showed riders standing on the scale while numerous different weight numbers would show up. A feature on the scale that determined when a rider was still, which would help indicate a proper reading, was not followed by the clerk of scales.
Court review said riders weighed out with varying levels of clothing and equipment and one rider even was seen carrying a Red Bull through the process. Videotape showed 13 different weights flash up on the digital scale for one rider during one weight-out session ranging from 110.5 to 122, with the recorded weight being 118.
In overturning the WVRC decision, the court also determined that the commission had evidence of other riders engaging in similar practices but they had not been sanctioned, making the commission decision against the seven riders arbitrary and capricious.