Facing Extortion Allegations, Defendants in Defamation Lawsuit Contend 'Baffert is the Rare Libel-Proof Plaintiff'

Bob Baffert | Horsephotos


The two defendants facing allegations of civil extortion and defamation in a federal lawsuit initiated by trainer Bob Baffert and his incorporated racing stable are contending that the case should be dismissed because “Baffert is the rare, libel-proof plaintiff given his notorious history in the horse racing industry,” according to a discovery plan filed jointly by lawyers for all sides in United States District Court (Southern District of California) Jan. 2.

Baffert's legal team, however, is banking that dismissal won't happen, and it told the court in the same document that it is anticipating the case should be able to be brought before a jury a little more than a year after it was first initiated.

“This matter should be ready for trial approximately in November of 2024,” Baffert's counsel wrote in the joint discovery plan. “Plaintiffs estimate that between five and eight days will be needed for trial.”

Back on Sept. 27, Baffert filed a suit against two New Jersey residents, Justin Wunderler and Daniel DiCorcia, that asked for compensatory damages in excess of $75,000, plus an award of punitive damages “to deter similar conduct by Defendants and others” after purportedly suffering “mental anguish, anxiety, and duress Defendants have caused by virtue of their repeated threats to Baffert's business and family by means of their unlawful statements.”

The alleged extortion and defamation took the form of repeated social media postings.

Among them, according to Baffert's complaint, were postings written by Wunderler asking “his followers to bring dangerous objects to hurl at Baffert and his family” at the 2023 GI Belmont S., and another in which Wunderler posted “a picture of Baffert's house in California.”

As Baffert's complaint put it, “This lawsuit is the response to a series of escalating threats and criminal conduct by Defendants Justin Wunderler and Daniel DiCorcia against Plaintiffs Bob Baffert and his family. Over the past several months, Defendants have urged others to engage in violent behavior toward Baffert and his family, baselessly accused Baffert of criminal conduct, and attempted to extort Baffert and his family under threats to his business, reputation, and occupational license.”

Both defendants have denied the allegations and are seeking a dismissal of the case.

Wunderler, however, did not initially file a timely legal response after being served with his  summons.

On Dec. 4, one of Baffert's attorneys, Clark Brewster, asked the court to enter a default judgment against Wunderler for failing to respond.

Wunderler subsequently obtained a lawyer and an answer was filed Dec. 15. The judge denied the motion for default judgment on Dec. 19 and ordered the case to proceed.

Next up is an “early neutral evaluation” conference Jan. 8 that is designed to serve as a form of alternate dispute resolution, although neither party mentioned the likelihood of a settlement in the Jan. 2 joint filing.

Baffert's legal team, in Tuesday's joint plan, brought up some anticipated issues relating to discovery, allegedly because “One or more defendants in this matter have posted on social media regarding their intent to seek discovery on matters beyond the scope of the Complaint.”

Discovery is the formal legal process by which the parties in a case exchange information in advance about witnesses and evidence that each side intends to present.

The filing by Baffert's lawyers continued: “This case is about Defendants' allegations of blood doping, the use of EPO, and their conspiracy to extort Mr. Baffert. Inquiries outside of these topics will be irrelevant except to the extent necessary to resolve issues regarding Mr. Baffert's reputation.”

The defendants were given an opportunity in the joint filing to give their positions on the topic of anticipated discovery issues.

“DiCorcia has nothing to add and no response to the amorphous comment above,” the joint filing stated.

“Wunderler agrees to adhere to the scope and limits of discovery [and] will adhere to any Court order regarding discovery,” the joint filing stated.

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