Judge in Navarro, Servis Case Denies Motion to Recuse

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Jorge NavarroBill Denver/Equi-Photo

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Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York angrily dismissed a motion from attorneys representing defendants in the wide-ranging doping scandal involving Jason Servis and Jorge Navarro that she recuse herself from the case. The lawyers had brought up conflict of interest concerns because she was the co-breeder of two horses that competed a total of four times against horses trained by  Navarro and Servis between 2006 and 2009.

Vyskocil lashed out at the lawyers Friday, calling the motion “frivolous” and “meritless.”

“This meritless motion appears to be calculated to divert attention from the serious crimes with which the defendants have been accused and to obstruct and delay the orderly administration of the case,” she said. “The motion is denied as frivolous, an obvious tactful gambit to delay the determination of the defendants' motion to dismiss.”

Vyskocil's comments came during a status conference held Friday morning. The conference was intended to update attorneys from both sides on the status of discovery evidence and to pin down a date for trail. But the first 15 minutes or so of the conference involved only the motion to recuse and Vyskocil's forceful retort.

“The bad-faith motion is frivolous and was clearly calculated to generate diversionary press coverage, which it clearly already has,” Vyskocil said. “The motion contained multiple, plainly false statements which officers of the court should not have made in a public filing and which are not entitled to be dignified with point-by-point commentary.”

Equibase records list Vyskocil, a former member of New York Thoroughbred Breeders Inc., as the co-breeder, along with Barry Ostrager, of horses who had faced Servis and Navarro trainees during their careers. The defendants argued that because of her role in the industry Vyskocil could be biased and should step down. She was never listed as the owner or co-owner of the horses in question.

“There is no conflict here and no reasonable person would perceive one,” she said.

The case has slowly worked its way through the system since March, 2020 when indictments were announced against 27 individuals for their role in a scheme to dope horses with performance-enhancing drugs. Vyskocil made it clear that she was eager for the matter to proceed and head to trail. She called for the defendants to be divided into three separate groups with the trial for the first group to commence during the fourth quarter of 2021 with the other two trials set to begin early next year.

“We need this case to be moving toward a trial,” she said.

The possibility of superceding indictments that would include additional charges for those already indicted or, perhaps, charge individuals not yet named was discussed. Vyskocil addressed that possibility with Andrew Adams, the lead prosecutor in the case, who did not give a precise answer.

“With respect to new people who may or may not be added , as I have said all along, as the government continues to investigate this case and to investigate other related cases, there may well be other people who are charged,” Adams said.  “There may be co-conspirators in this case, but the government would not expect that somebody added to the case today would be on the same schedule as the people who have been in the case. But that, again, would have no impact on the defendants that are currently in the case…It's also speculative. It is not our intention to announce a superceder next week or next month. As we sit here today I am not able to say that we are certainly or even likely to add charges in this case. It is all speculation and it need not delay moving the case forward.”

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