05/25/2011 2:51PM

Mullins files federal lawsuit against CHRB seeking stay of suspension

Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Jeff Mullins is claiming that the California Horse Racing Board violated his due-process rights.

Trainer Jeff Mullins filed a motion in U.S. Superior Court on Wednesday requesting a stay of a 70-day suspension that he is scheduled to begin serving June 1, citing violations of his due-process rights by the California Horse Racing Board.

In the lawsuit, filed in U.S. Superior Court of California in the County of San Diego, Mullins argued that he should be granted a hearing in the court before the suspension can begin, so that he can present evidence that the CHRB’s decision to enforce the suspension earlier this year violated his rights.

The lawsuit is the latest in a series of maneuvers dating back nearly five years to July 2006, when a horse trained by Mullins tested positive for the prohibited painkiller mepivacaine. The CHRB initially ordered a 90-day suspension, but the penalty was reduced to 20 days and one year of probation. After another horse trained by Mullins tested positive for an excessive level of total carbon dioxide during the terms of the probation, the CHRB ordered that Mullins serve an additional 70 days.

Mullins has argued that the mepivacaine positive was a result of a contaminated post-race sample, and he also has contended that the positive for total carbon dioxide was due to naturally elevated levels in the horse.

Following a series of unsuccessful appeals by Mullins, the CHRB ordered the suspension to be enforced in an April 28 action, rejecting a hearing officer’s recommendation for a 60-day suspension, with credit for 20 days already served. In the lawsuit, Mullins alleged that the board met in secret to approve the order and that they did not inform him of the decision until a deadline had passed for him to appeal the decision.

Kirk Breed, executive director of the CHRB, said Wednesday that the board had not yet received a copy of the lawsuit but that he expected the state’s attorney general office to oppose the motion. He also disputed that the board had met in secret when approving the penalty.

“The meeting was posted and advertised,” Breed said. “It was approved in an executive session [in which the public is barred from attendance], which is legal. [Mullins] had every opportunity to present his concerns prior to the hearing, and he chose not to.”

The lawsuit also includes allegations that the board unfairly targeted Mullins in its post-race testing program and that several of its former and current officials were biased against him. Several of the allegations are based on a lawsuit recently filed by a former CHRB employee, Mory Atashkar, who sued the board earlier this year claiming violations of the Whistleblower Protection Act. Atashkar resigned in 2007.

Breed also disputed the allegation that Mullins was unfairly targeted by the board.

“We put some horsemen under surveillance if we have cause,” Breed said. “That’s the way we do things, because that’s the only way you can conduct an investigation. And it’s a deterrent to keep people from violating the laws.”