04/14/2005 12:00AM

Guild to investigate nonpayment claims


A lawyer representing the Jockeys' Guild said Thursday that the organization intends to investigate claims that some California jockeys have not been reimbursed for medical bills covered under the guild's insurance plan.

Barry Broad, a lawyer based in Sacramento, Calif., said that the Guild had received notification about the cases from the California Horse Racing Board on Wednesday, an hour before the board released a statement that said it had asked the guild to explain the cases. The statement included language critical of the Guild.

Broad sharply criticized the board statement, calling it "irresponsible and outrageous." He contended that the guild did not have a chance to review the claims before the release of the statement, and said the guild had not received the documents supporting the contention that the claims went unpaid.

"It assumes facts to be true that we don't know are true," Broad said, in reference to the statement. "It essentially condemns the guild in the court of public opinion even though we have no knowledge about how the claims were handled or the circumstances surrounding the claims."

Richard Shapiro, a board commissioner who has been critical of the guild's financial practices and has led an effort to audit the guild's books, did not return phone calls on Thursday.

In a statement from the board Thursday, Shapiro clarified his position. "Of course, we must hold the jockeys themselves responsible for following the correct procedures and doing what is required of them," he said. "Certainly, we won't hold the guild responsible if the jockeys are not going through the proper procedures, or if doctors are submitting bills that are not appropriate."

The guild annually receives approximately $1 million from the state of California to contribute to health insurance plans managed by the guild for California jockeys. That payment, which by law goes to a group representing a "majority of riders in the state," was suspended earlier this year as the board completes its audits.

Jockeys in California are covered under the state's workers' compensation program for racetrack injuries. The guild has a national self-insurance plan covering jockeys for medical care, Broad said, and the California payment is used to underwrite the costs of that program.

Documents pertaining to 12 of the unpaid-claims cases were forwarded to the board by Ron Warren Jr., a jockey in northern California who has formed a rival organization to the Jockeys' Guild. Warren's organization is seeking to manage the $1 million payment on behalf of California jockeys.

Warren said that he had been notified that one of the cases, which involved unpaid medical bills of $60,000, had already been addressed by the Guild.

Warren said the claims ranged from $80 in one case to several thousand dollars in other cases.