Baffert Amends Lawsuit to Attack NYRA's Alleged 'Sham' Hearing

|

Bob BaffertHorsephotos

By

Bob Baffert filed an amended complaint on Friday in his ongoing constitutional rights court battle against the New York Racing Association (NYRA). The new sections of the revised lawsuit contain no new bombshell allegations, and largely mirror points previously voiced by his legal team regarding what they have described as a “sham” hearing process initiated by NYRA to determine if Baffert will be excluded from New York's premier tracks.

“The Sept. 10, 2021, 'Statement of Charges' which NYRA has asserted against Baffert are unquestionably vague and entirely subjective,” the amended complaint states. “The 'Statement of Charges' alleges that Baffert has engaged in: 1) 'conduct detrimental to the best interest of racing'; 2) 'conduct detrimental to the health and safety of horses and jockeys'; and 3) 'conduct detrimental to NYRA business operations.'”

The Nov. 19 revision filed in United States District Court (Eastern District of New York) goes on to state that “there are no articulable standards for establishing whether Baffert's conduct in other jurisdictions was detrimental.”

Thus, the amended complaint further states, “Under this vague framework, NYRA seeks to ignore [legal matters that have already been decided] in other jurisdictions and impose its own arbitrary punishment.”

The Hall of Fame trainer's initial version of this lawsuit dates back to June 14. It alleged NYRA violated his constitutional right to due process by trying to bar him over his history of equine medication violations.

NYRA had banished the seven-time GI Kentucky Derby-winning trainer back on May 17 after the Baffert-trained Medina Spirit (Protonico) tested positive for a betamethasone overage while winning the May 1 Run for the Roses.

That case has still not resulted in any Kentucky ruling against Baffert. In a separate testing endeavor, Baffert is trying to prove that Medina Spirit's betamethasone finding was the result of the application of an anti-fungal ointment and not an injection of that drug. The Blood-Horse reported Thursday that long-delayed testing of a urine specimen won't even begin until next week.

But NYRA's desire to rule off Baffert goes beyond Medina Spirit's still-in-limbo Derby penalization status. In the 12 months prior to Medina Spirit's positive, four other Baffert trainees also tested positive for medication overages, two of them in Grade I stakes.

On July 14 the court granted Baffert a preliminary injunction that allows him to race at New York's premier tracks until his lawsuit gets adjudicated in full.

But judge Carol Bagley Amon also wrote in that ruling that “Baffert should have been given notice of all of the reasons that NYRA intended to suspend him….[The] benefits of providing notice and a pre-suspension hearing would likely have been substantial.”

So in the wake of that decision, NYRA drafted a new set of procedures for holding hearings and issuing determinations designed to suspend licensees who engage in injurious conduct.

After those rules were made public, NYRA wrote a Sept. 10 letter summoning Baffert to appear at an exclusion hearing.

On Sept. 22, Baffert filed a motion asking the judge to hold NYRA in civil contempt for trying to schedule such a hearing and to stay the hearing itself. Both requests were denied.

  1. Craig Robertson, the lead attorney on Baffert's legal team, then wrote an Oct. 21 letter to the judge asking to be allowed to amend the initial complaint to address the allegedly unfair hearing process. His argument, in part, stated that “The rules and procedures which NYRA has concocted for Baffert were all created after the fact.”

On Nov. 9, in an effort to move along the already cumbersome litigation process, Amon said she would allow Baffert to amend his complaint, because if she didn't, it is likely that he would simply file a new, separate lawsuit to get his allegations about the exclusion hearing ruled upon in court.

“NYRA purports to act pursuant to a new 'rule' that supposedly gives it the right to suspend Baffert for conduct occurring 'in any jurisdiction,'” the amended complaint now states.

“However, prior to this case, NYRA never had such a rule in place and never attempted to punish a trainer for conduct that occurred outside of the state of New York,” the complaint continues. “It created this rule (and the associated procedures) after the alleged misconduct occurred. It is a fundamental due process violation for NYRA to enact rules and procedures and attempt to apply them ex post facto.”

The new allegations further state that “There are numerous other trainers who, unlike Baffert, have actually run afoul of New York's rules of racing, but who NYRA continues to allow to race. NYRA's duplicitous actions make it clear that it has simply chosen to target Baffert for disparate treatment.”

Even as Baffert's legal team is fighting the exclusion hearing, it still must prepare for that process in the event that the court does not intervene to cancel it. The parties have mutually agreed to a Jan. 24 start date.

NYRA has until Dec. 3 to file its response to the amended complaint. When NYRA previously addressed the issue of the hearing in court documents, it termed Baffert's characterization of the process as “misguided,” noting that “Plaintiff s argument that he had no notice of the conduct prohibited by NYRA likewise fails given that common law has long recognized the standards and interests NYRA intends to uphold.”

NYRA had also previously pointed out to the judge that it was “providing Plaintiff exactly what he argued he was entitled to in support of his motion for a preliminary injunction-notice and an opportunity to be heard.”

Not a subscriber? Click here to sign up for the daily PDF or alerts.

X

Never miss another story from the TDN

Click Here to sign up for a free subscription.