California Horse Racing Board documents pertaining to an investigation of trainer Frank Monteleone were turned over June 17 to a Sacramento judge who will determine if the files should be protected from a Public Records Act request.
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Raymond M. Cadei set resumption of the case for July 15 after he has reviewed the documents, which horse owner Mary Frances Rowe believes include a secret agreement between Monteleone and former CHRB executive director Roy Wood Jr. Cadel indicated he could rule before that date.
Rowe, of Hemet, wants the court to force the CHRB to produce records of its dealings with Monteleone, who was a defendant in a civil fraud case that was settled earlier this year.
The Monteleone case was originally investigated by the CHRB in 1997, but the board has yet to take action. Rowe contends it is because an agreement was struck between Wood and Monteleone that protected the trainer from action against his license in exchange for information on the backstretch activities of other trainers.
Such an agreement, Rowe believes, violated the public trust and was illegal.
To date, the CHRB has refused to acknowledge the agreement exists. If it does exist, however, the board argues that it is protected from release to the public as part of an investigatory or security file.
Cadei said he was confused by the CHRB's position. "The board has a duty to identify the records for the public" under the PRA, he said.
"The board is in a difficult spot," Christine Murphy, a deputy attorney general representing the CHRB, told Cadei. "If the board was to admit such a document exists, it will be revealing the contents of the document."
The judge also questioned whether a CHRB investigation can remain closed to the public forever, comparing it to a police probe.
Murphy said she would prefer to allow the judge to make the call. "We have the two files for in-camera review," she said. "They will determine whether the documents exist and whether there is an investigation."
Riverside attorney Lisa Carlson, representing Rowe, said she felt the hearing went well.
Monteleone settled a lawsuit filed in Las Vegas with horse owners Joseph Hirshfeld and Ron Holguin, who alleged the trainer defrauded them in the purchase and training of two European Thoroughbreds. The suit was closed on Feb. 3 in a Nevada district court after it was settled for an undisclosed amount.
A default judgement of $635,000 was entered against Monteleone several months before the two sides negotiated the settlement.