Jockeys fighting suspensions, fines

By Justin Anderson | Apr 21, 2009

CHARLESTON – A group of jockeys at Charles Town Races and Slots are suing the West Virginia Racing Commission, saying they were unjustly suspended over allegations they cheated during weigh-ins.

Seven jockeys filed separate lawsuits April 14 in Kanawha Circuit Court against the commission.

Lawrence Reynolds, Anthony Mawing, Alexis Rios-Conde, Jesus Sanchez, Dale Whittaker, Luis Perez ande Tony A. Maragh say a board appointed by the commission denied them their due process rights during an April 8 hearing, during which all were suspended and fined and denied access to the racetrack.

The plaintiffs' lawyers, Sean W. Cook and Benjamin Bailey, have asked the court to consolidate the cases and to issue a temporary restraining order, blocking the suspensions and the prohibition to the racetrack.

Judge L.D. Egnor Jr., who is filling in for Kanawha Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib, issued the restraining order and blocked the racetrack's attempts to keep the jockeys off the premises last week.

The lawsuits say that the jockeys received notices from the commission on April 4 ordering them to appear for a hearing because they'd violated "West Virginia Rules of Racing." The plaintiffs say the notices were deficient in that they provided no details on what each was being accused of. The notices only said they were accused of "alleged detrimental conduct in regards to weighing out and weighing in."

According to the suit, "weighing out" refers to the jockey's being weighed before a race. The "weighing in" occurs after the race. State rules say that if a jockey's weight is more than two pounds over what the horse can carry, they have to declare this to the clerk of scales at the racetrack.

Then, the clerk is required to post this information on a notice board and announce it over the racetrack's public address system, the lawsuits say.

The complaints say it is also a longstanding practice at the racetrack to fine jockeys $50 if they are overweight during the weigh-out.

The notice of the hearing also allegedly said the jockeys could bring along a lawyer.

At the hearing, the jockeys were to be represented by John Howard, a lawyer for the Jockey's Guild. Two labor representatives of the guild were also present at the hearing.

However, at the hearing, the board of stewards appointed by the state Racing Commission allegedly told Howard he could not appear on behalf of the jockeys because he was not licensed to practice law in West Virginia.

The complaints say that when Howard asked for a continuance so he could either be temporarily licensed by the State Bar or to procure counsel for the jockeys, the board said a continuance would immediately result in a suspension of the jockeys' racing permits.

The plaintiffs "forced to choose between an immediate suspension and facing unknown charges, but confident (they) had engaged in no wrongdoing," decided to go through the hearing without counsel, the complaints say.

The plaintiffs were kept in a holding room at the racetrack and detained by security officials, the complaints say. They were allegedly told not to discuss the case with anyone and were not allowed to leave the room without a security escort, the complaints say.

At no time were the plaintiffs informed of or shown any evidence against them, the complaints say.

During the hearing, the plaintiffs were, for the first time, told of the allegations and shown video that allegedly displayed "weigh outs" that were alleged to exceed the prescribed racing weight, the complaints say.

No evidence related to "weigh in" infractions was presented, the plaintiffs say. The board members also asked the plaintiffs if they'd bribed the clerk of scales to not report the weight discrepancies, the complaints say.

All the plaintiffs denied the allegations as false, absurd and outrageous.

Nevertheless, without a "single shred of evidence produced," the board found the plaintiffs guilty of dishonest and corrupt practices, suspended them for 30 days and fined them $1,000.

When one of the guild representatives asked about the jockeys' right to appeal the decision, one of the board members said that if they appealed the decision, the suspensions would be extended to six months, the complaints say.

The guild asked the state Racing Commission in a letter to stay the suspensions until the plaintiffs could appeal, but the agency refused, the complaints say.

The Racing Commission is being represented by Kelli D. Talbott and Anthony D. Eates II, both with the state Attorney General's office.

The jockeys say the suspensions would result in lost earnings and opportunities to race. Not to mention that their reputations would be harmed by the allegations in the "tight-knit" world of horseracing.

Kanawha Circuit Court case numbers: 09-C-688 through 09-C-694

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