By Bill Finley
A lawyer representing trainer Bob Baffert has notified the judge handling Baffert's legal dispute with the New York Racing Association that he intends to file a motion to hold NYRA in contempt and will also seek a stay that would prevent NYRA from taking any immediate action that could lead to Baffert being suspended.
Those intentions were part of a letter sent Tuesday by Baffert attorney Craig Robertson to Judge Carol Bagley Amon, Senior United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Robertson asked for a pre-motion conference to go over what are the latest developments in the Baffert-NYRA case.
After it was revealed that the Baffert-trained Medina Sprit (Protonico) tested positive for the substance betamethasone following the GI Kentucky Derby, NYRA announced on May 17 plans to temporarily suspend the Hall of Fame trainer. Baffert fought back and was granted a preliminary injunction by Amon, who ruled that Baffert's right to due process had been violated because NYRA took the action without giving him a hearing. That allowed Baffert to enter horses at Saratoga, but did not end his legal ordeal with NYRA.
On Sept. 10, NYRA announced that it had scheduled a hearing for Baffert, who, NYRA contended, has engaged in conduct detrimental to the best interest of the sport. The hearing is now scheduled to begin Oct. 11 and O. Peter Sherwood, a retired New York State Supreme Court Justice, is scheduled to serve as the hearing officer.
Robertson's argument revolves around the July 14 decision from Amon, which he writes, meant that NYRA cannot go forward until the case before Amon is fully adjudicated.
“On July 14, 2021, this Court entered an Order enjoining NYRA from enforcing its suspension,” Robertson wrote. “The Court directed that NYRA was enjoined 'pending the final hearing and determination of this action.' NYRA did not appeal the Court's ruling.”
Robertson wrote that the scheduling of a hearing was in “direct contravention” of Amon's July 4 ruling.
“…on Sept. 10, 2021, NYRA sent Baffert another letter stating that it was instituting renewed proceedings to impose the exact same suspension which was enjoined,” Robertson wrote. “The reasons set forth in NYRA's Sept. 10 letter for why it wants to suspend Baffert are the exact same ones set forth in its May 17 letter. The only thing different is that it appears that NYRA has concocted some procedures–apparently just for this case–in an attempt to retroactively install legitimacy to its blatantly unlawful actions. These 'procedures' did not exist until NYRA created them out of whole cloth two months after the Court refused to allow it to arbitrarily suspend Baffert…”
NYRA spokesperson Pat McKenna maintained that all actions taken by NYRA have been in compliance of Amon's July 14 ruling.
“NYRA is not seeking to 'enforce' the May 17, 2021 letter temporarily suspending (Baffert),” he said. “That letter is no longer in effect and NYRA does not now or in the future intend to enforce or otherwise invoke that letter as the basis for any action taken against Mr. Baffert. The current NYRA hearing proceeding was independently commenced pursuant to NYRA's common law and regulatory authority to exclude licensees, subject to the requirements of due process, and in full compliance with the U.S. District Court's order and memorandum, dated July 14, 2021, in Bob Baffert v. The New York Racing Association, Inc.”
Robertson cites NYRA's recent actions as the reason why it should be held in contempt. He wrote that the Sept. 10 letter sent to Baffert notifying him that a hearing had been scheduled was “clear and convincing evidence of noncompliance with the Court's Order.”
“In reality, the only difference between the original suspension letter (which has now been enjoined) and NYRA's latest suspension letter is the date on the letterhead,” Robertson wrote. “Until this litigation is concluded, NYRA cannot move forward with attempting to enforce a suspension against Baffert that is identical to the one which has been enjoined. NYRA should be found in contempt of this Court's injunction Order and NYRA's renewed effort to suspend Baffert should be stayed.”
After getting the stay, Baffert had six starts at Saratoga with one win. The victory came with Gamine (Into Mischief) in the GI Ballerina S. That Baffert competed in Saratoga without incident is, Robertson wrote, still another reason why NYRA should not be looking to suspend him at this time.
“There is nothing new which has transpired since NYRA was enjoined,” he wrote. “No new facts, no new allegations. If anything, the facts have moved more solidly in Baffert's favor and toward maintaining the status quo as Baffert raced several horses at the recent Saratoga meet without incident.”
According to the letter, Baffert has a final draft of his motion filed and will submit it if NYRA continues to move forward with efforts to suspend the trainer.