Court of Appeals Reverses Baffert's Morphine Dismissal

In a decision filed June 6, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed a federal court ruling and ordered reinstatement of the California Horse Racing Board's complaint against trainer Bob Baffert for a morphine positive in one of his horses.

The three-judge panel, in a 15-page opinion written by Circuit Judge Susan P. Graber, ruled that a federal court should not have issued a ruling on this particular state action. The technicality concerns whether Baffert's constitutional rights were abridged when the blood samples taken from the horse in question, Nautical Look, were destroyed by California's testing laboratory. The federal court found that to be the case, but the court of appeals reversed that, ruling that since Baffert's constitutional rights were not abridged, the federal court should not have heard the case.

Baffert's attorney, Los Angeles-based Neil Papiano, said, "We'll try and get a higher authority to look at that issue, but this has nothing to do with Baffert and racing, it's only a technical situation. The trial court said Baffert was deprived of his constitutional rights, and this court today said the case has to go up through the state court before it gets to federal court."

The court of appeals ruled that the destruction of the blood samples did not prove bad faith. "Nautical Look's blood samples were not singled out for destruction. The samples were destroyed pursuant to a random practice of destroying one-third of the blood samples at the laboratory, and pursuant to the board's policy of destroying split samples after 45 days if no request for testing has been made."

"We're going to ask for a re-hearing, and might ask the Supreme Court to take jurisdiction, but I don't know if the case is big enough for that," Papiano said. "If not, we'll go back to the trial court and start over again."