03/15/2013 1:34PM

Kentucky appeals court overturns ban of veterinarian Rod Stewart


The Kentucky Court of Appeals has overturned a decision by Kentucky regulators to issue a five-year suspension to Dr. Rod Stewart in 2009. Regulators issued the suspension after a search at Keeneland of the veterinarian’s equipment turned up cobra venom and several anti-Parkinson’s drugs.

The March 15 appeals ruling said that the statutes used to justify the penalty were “vague,” in part because the state’s rules in 2009 did not specifically outlaw the possession of cobra venom, a painkiller, and in part because the state’s rules for Standardbreds allowed the possession and use of the drug at the time.

“We are ultimately in agreement with Dr. Stewart that the commission’s permissive use of snake venom under Standardbred horse regulations, coupled with the lack of express forbiddance of snake venom in Thoroughbred racing regulations creates an ambiguity, which does not give a veterinarian of ordinary intelligence a reasonable opportunity to know that the commission intended to prohibit snake venom in Thoroughbred racing,” the court wrote.

Kentucky regulators later amended the state’s Standardbred regulations to prohibit cobra venom. At the time of the search, in 2007, Stewart said that he treated both Thoroughbred and Standardbred horses.

Stewart was suspended for four years by stewards after a search at the Keeneland barn of Patrick Biancone, one of his clients, turned up three vials of snake venom. An additional one year was tacked on to the suspension because of the discovery of vials of levodopa and carbidopa, two drugs used to treat Parkinson’s disease in humans that have no known uses in equine medicine but can be used to stimulate the production of dopamine in the brain.

After an appeal by Stewart of the stewards’ decision, the commission upheld a hearing officer’s decision to enforce the four-year suspension in 2009. Stewart then appealed that ruling in Franklin Circuit Court.

Kentucky’s racing commission levied the penalty under a part of its rules prohibiting the use or possession of substances that “may endanger the health and welfare of the horse” or a drug that was not approved for use in animals by federal authorities.

Stewart has already served nearly four years of the suspension, and it was not clear if he would seek any further recourse against the commission.

“We’ve just gotten the opinion, and we’re reviewing our options,” said one of Stewart’s attorneys, Mike Meuser, of Lexington, on Friday.

It was also unclear if the commission would appeal the ruling. The commission’s legal counsel, Susan Speckert, did not return a phone call on Friday.

The Court of Appeals issued the ruling with the legal distinction “not to be published,” meaning that it will not be used as precedent without further action, according to Meuser.