CHARLESTON – Owners of West Virginia race tracks can't suspend jockeys until the state racing commission holds hearings on charges against them, the Supreme Court of Appeals ruled.
Three Justices on Nov. 18 affirmed Kanawha Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib, who held that Charles Town Races and Slots couldn't bar seven jockeys from their premises.
Chief Justice Margaret Workman wrote that the jockeys had a right to appeal their ejections and that Charles Town Races and Slots was bound by racing commission decisions.
"It is understandable that a racetrack would want to eject a permit holder for conduct that is alleged to be fraudulent or corrupt," she wrote. "However, the Legislature has expressly placed plenary power and authority concerning such alleged conduct involving permit holders with the racing commission."
Justices Thomas McHugh and Robin Davis agreed. Justices Brent Benjamin and Menis Ketchum dissented and reserved the right to file opinions.
In 2009, stewards at the track concluded that clerk of scales Michael Garrison allowed jockeys to hide weights more than a pound above their limits.
Stewards fined Garrison and suspended his occupation permit indefinitely.
They fined jockeys Lawrence Reynolds, Anthony Mawing, Alexis Rios-Conde, Jesus Sanchez, Dale Whitaker, Luis Perez, and Tony Maragh $1,000 each, and suspended their permits for 30 days.
Reynolds sued for an injunction against the racing commission six days later, to stay his suspension pending proper notice and a hearing.
Zakaib granted it, but Charles Town Races and Slots wouldn't let the jockeys ride.
Track owners asserted a common law right to exclude the jockeys from the property.
The jockeys asked Zakaib to extend the injunction to the track, and he did so.
He found track owners were acting in concert with the commission.
An examiner for the commission held a hearing in 2009, and found the jockeys guilty of conniving with Garrison in the commission of a corrupt practice.
The commission adopted the examiner's position lat year, and it imposed the penalties the track stewards had tried to impose.
Track owners then moved to confirm that Zakaib's injunction expired, but Zakaib ruled they couldn't deprive the jockeys of an opportunity for review of the commission's sanctions.
He ordered them not to impede the rights of the jockeys to engage in their legitimate activities.
Charles Town Races and Slots appealed, to no avail.
Workman wrote that the Legislature placed with the racing commission full jurisdiction over all horse and dog racing meetings.
She wrote that state law allows an owner to eject a person, but that all occupation permit holders who are ejected have a right of appeal to the commission.
She wrote that if the commission reverses an ejection or reduces a punishment, the owner must abide by the decision.
Benjamin Bailey and Christopher Morris, of Bailey and Glasser in Charleston, represented the jockeys. Carte Goodwin, of Goodwin and Goodwin in Charleston, represented Charles Town Races and Slots. So did Stuart McMillan and Brian Peterson, of Bowles Rice McDavid Graf and Love in Charleston.