Dr. Rodney Stewart, who was suspended five years by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission for violating various medication violations including possession of cobra venom, has been granted a stay of that action until his appeal can be heard, according to a ruling by a Franklin (Kentucky) Circuit Court judge.
In a ruling in favor of the request filed by attorneys Mike Meuser, Michelle Hurley and Karen Murphy on behalf of Stewart, Circuit Judge Philip J. Shepherd cited the fact that Stewart has already surrendered his license to practice in Kentucky as part of the reason for granting the stay. By having the suspension take effect before the appeal is heard, Stewart would be precluded from practicing in other states or his native Australia by virtue of reciprocity rules, Shepherd said.
"The commission has a strong interest in protecting the integrity and the safety of racetracks in Kentucky and the alleged violation is serious in nature," he wrote. "However, these concerns are counterbalanced by the fact it was stipulated that Dr. Stewart has surrendered his license in Kentucky, and there is no possibility that he will be practicing at Kentucky racetracks during the pendency of this appeal."
Given the potential time that would lapse during the appeal process, Shepherd said that if Stewart prevailed in his appeal, he would have no way to recover the financial loss he would suffer if the commission’s suspension order took effect.
Noting that "the complaint of Dr. Stewart has raised substantial issues of law, including the issue of whether the penalty imposed is lawful or in excess of the commission’s statutory and regulatory authority," Shepherd said "if the penalty is imposed prior to a final adjudication of the merits of Dr. Stewart’s claim, the acts of the adverse party will tend to render such final judgment ineffectual. The suspension, in whole or in part, will already have been served, with the collateral impact on Dr. Stewart’s ability to practice his profession throughout the United States and in his home country."
Shepherd made it clear that he is "not reaching, or prejudging, the merits of this appeal" in granting the stay. "The commission’s order raises serious concerns and the commission’s counsel forcefully argued that the severity of the penalty is justified by the seriousness of the offense," the judge’s order said. "Those arguments may well be borne out when the court has fully reviewed the merits of the case. However, the court believes Dr. Stewart should have his day in court and the chance to make his legal arguments before the commission’s suspension results in his automatic and immediate disqualification from practicing his profession before a court of law has the chance to judge the merits of this appeal."
Shepherd also gave Stewart’s attorneys until Aug. 10 to file their briefs in connection with the appeal, with the commission having until Sept. 9 to file a response. After Stewart’s reply brief is filed with a Sept. 24 deadline, Shepherd will set a date for an oral argument and the case will be submitted for final decision.
Lisa Underwood, executive director of the KHRC, said the commisson had no response to the stay granted Stewart .