Blea's Vet License Remains Suspended, Per Judge


Jeff Blea | AAEP photo


The veterinary license of California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) equine medical director, Jeff Blea, remains suspended pending a full administrative hearing, according to a ruling by administrative law judge Nana Chin.

In a 15-page document dated Friday, Jan. 28 but posted to the Veterinary Medical Board's website Wednesday, Chin wrote that despite Blea not currently practicing veterinary medicine, this still “does not ensure” public safety.

“As long as Respondent's license to practice is active, he is free to return to the practice of veterinary medicine at any time. Permitting Respondent to practice and engage in veterinary medicine poses a risk of injury to the public health, safety, and welfare,” wrote Chin in the ruling.

According to a UC Davis spokesperson, Blea remains on administrative leave from his position as equine medical director.

At the start of the year, the California veterinary board announced that an emergency hearing had resulted in an interim suspension of Blea's veterinary license for a number of alleged offenses, including purportedly administering medications to racehorses without a prior examination, without forming a diagnosis and without medical necessity.

Chin presided over a formal hearing on that interim suspension Jan. 21.

“I'm certainly disappointed,” said Blea's attorney, George Wallace. “But I don't know, given the players involved, that it really is a surprise.”

According to Wallace, the veterinary board has 30 days with which to schedule a full hearing on the merits of the case once a notice of defense has been filed, though he warned that the timeline will likely take longer.

Wallace also suggested that Blea might seek “intervention” from the Superior Court in the meantime. “Under the interim suspension statute, there is a right to seek review in the Superior Court,” Wallace said.

“I would expect that, by this time next week, we'll have a much clearer idea of where things are going to be steered,” said Wallace. “But at the moment, it's an ongoing process. There are a lot of people whose opinions get to be heard on it, on all sides.”

A timeline of events leading to the issuance of the charges against Blea can be read here.

A key wrinkle in the case concerns the question of whether or not the equine medical director position requires an active veterinary license.

The position is first appointed by the dean of UC Davis, and the university then contracts with the CHRB for the appointee's services.

Historically, the equine medical director has not required an active license.

But in its argument for an interim suspension, the veterinary board claimed that Blea presents a “danger to public health, safety and welfare,” due to his oversight as equine medical director of the high-profile investigation into the death of the Bob Baffert-trained Medina Spirit (Protonico), the GI Kentucky Derby winner who collapsed and died after a scheduled workout Dec. 6 at Santa Anita.

The CHRB responded to Blea's emergency interim suspension by bringing in the executive associate dean of UC Davis's School of Veterinary Medicine, John Pascoe, to oversee the necropsy of Medina Spirit.

UC Davis subsequently placed Blea on administrative leave Jan. 12, however.

“The UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine is aware the interim order of suspension of Dr. Jeff Blea's veterinary license has been upheld and is monitoring the situation as the legal process moves forward,” wrote a UC Davis spokesperson, in an email.

“The School of Veterinary Medicine continues to fulfill its duties to provide equine medical director services for the CHRB,” the spokesperson added.

The CHRB has thrown its weight behind Blea, voting unanimously in closed session Jan. 20 on their “support and confidence in Blea to continue in his role,” according to a statement issued last week.

The commissioners are “further committed to pursue appropriate legal avenues to protect the authority of the board, as well as preserve the contract with UC Davis,” the CHRB wrote, adding that “regardless of the outcome, Dr. Blea has their full support and confidence to continue in his role as EMD throughout the full adjudication process.”

According to CHRB executive director, Scott Chaney, the CHRB is exploring the short-term option of unilaterally filing a writ of mandate with the Superior Court questioning the legality of the actions.

Chaney explained that the CHRB has two possible legal approaches. One would be to challenge the fact that the CHRB wasn't allowed to intervene at the formal hearing on the interim suspension.

“Or just go straight to the heart of the matter: The vet' med' board's overstepping its authority,” Chaney said.

How likely is it that the CHRB will take this action? “Fairly likely,” said Chaney. “My board was pretty clear about doing everything in our legal power to try to right this wrong.”

Chaney also explained that UC Davis could send the Medina Spirit necropsy report to the CHRB within days.

Chaney added that once the CHRB has gained permission from the owner of Medina Spirit to send the report out unredacted, “which is my preference,” it will be made public immediately.

“They already know we're going to make that ask,” explained Chaney. “They just ask that they can see it before we [make it public]. The turnaround is going to be very quick,” said Chaney.

The veterinary board accuses Blea of a number of offenses, including allegedly administering drugs to racehorses without a prior examination to form a diagnosis and determine medical necessity, failing to establish “any” veterinary-client-patient relationship, and of issuing drugs that are not FDA approved for equine administration.

A subsequent TDN investigation found a broad consensus among veterinary medical experts that the infractions are largely matters of poor record keeping which rarely, if ever, rise to the level of a suspended license.

“When it comes to rising to the level of needing an immediate suspension, in my opinion, I don't think it reaches that level,” Bryan Langlois, former president of the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, told the TDN.

In her ruling, however, Chin suggests that the defense failed to provide at the administrative hearing an adequate rebuttal to the allegations, writing that while testimony from the veterinary board's investigator, James Howard, was given “significant merit,” the affidavits submitted by the defendant were afforded “little” weight.

“Though each affiant asserts that the allegations were without merit and claims the allegations are based on a misunderstanding of racetrack practice, they provide no factual grounds for their conclusions,” Chin wrote.

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