A West Virginia Circuit Court has reinstated the occupational permit of former Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races racing secretary Randy Wehrman.
Wehrman was fired in December 2012 after requesting and accepting a $700 loan from trainers John McKee and Cynthia O'Bannon. In February 2013, West Virginia stewards revoked Wehrman's permit for two years. That decision was upheld by the West Virginia Racing Commission in September.
But on June 25, Judge Carrie Webster of the Circuit Court of Kanawa County, W.Va., reversed the racing commission's decision and reinstated Wehrman's permit to the date it was revoked. The decision said all records concerning the disciplinary action be removed and Wehrman's professional status be restored. The court case did not involve the track's decision to fire Wehrman.
The court said both sides in the case agreed that Wehrman had accepted a $700 loan from McKee, through McKee's "significant other," O'Bannon. The court said Wehrman was friends with the trainers and repaid the loan.
The court determined the transaction did not violate rules that prohibit a permit-holder from accepting or offering a "bribe, gift, or gratuity in any form." The court said the stewards determined the loan to be "a form of gratuity," the hearing officer determined it was a "gift," and in the appeal to the WVRC, a commission witness did not offer an opinion on the matter.
That proved critical to the circuit court. It determined the loan was not a gift, gratuity, or bribe. The court said the transaction was a loan between friends.
"Accordingly, to characterize the loan in this case as a gift is contrary to the ordinary and familiar meaning of that word," the court said.
While the court found the issue to be enough to rule in Wehrman's favor, it also ruled there was no evidence presented to suggest the transaction impaired Wehrman's impartiality and independent judgment.
"While the commission offered evidence toward a showing that the petitioner was in a position that control(s) elements of certain racing starts, they failed to produce evidence demonstrating that the loan, even if it were a gift, may influence the result of a race," the court found. "In fact, their evidence was to the contrary."
The court also found no reason for the WVRC to find an adverse inference in the fact that Wehrman did not testify at proceedings.
WVRC senior deputy attorney general Kelli Talbott said the WVRC is considering its options, which would include an appeal of the circuit court' decision.