By T. D. Thornton
Lawyers for banned trainer Jorge Navarro and six other defendants in the alleged nationwide racehorse doping conspiracy informed United States District Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil late on Thursday that a “Motion to Recuse” filing is imminent that will ask her to step away from handling their cases.
A motion to recuse is a formal request for a judge to remove him/herself based on prejudice or conflict.
Either side in a case can make this motion, but the moving party bears the burden of proving that there are reasonable grounds that the judge would not act fairly and/or objectively, and any alleged prejudices must be outlined in an affidavit.
A judge facing a recusal motion can ask another judge to rule on it, and a recusal would mean an alternate judge gets assigned. Motions to recuse that are deemed to be delaying tactics are expressly forbidden, but not unheard of.
The request from Navarro, which was joined by defendants Seth Fishman, Jordan Fishman, Erica Garcia, Christopher Oakes, Michael Tannuzzo and Lisa Giannelli, was filed eight days before the first status hearing in the case since November is scheduled to be held. That May 14 hearing is expected to include the judge's long-awaited timeline for the trial.
In the form of a letter filed May 6 in U.S. District Court (Southern District of New York), Navarro and the other defendants stated, “We write to advise your Honor that, following a joint conference amongst counsel for the Defendants, Defendants are contemplating a Motion to Recuse your Honor. The issue was raised with the government [May 6] on a telephone conference.”
In light of the expected motion to recuse, the defendants are also asking that the judge “hold in abeyance any rulings” that might be forthcoming with regard to the defendants' previously filed motion to dismiss the case entirely.
The federal case against the alleged network of racehorse dopers is the result of a March 2020 spate of arrests in relation to a purported years-long conspiracy to manufacture, mislabel, rebrand, distribute and administer performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) to Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds across America and in international races.
There are seven other defendants whose cases are also being adjudicated by Vyskocil; others under the auspices of different judges.