01/17/2018 3:07PM

Pennsylvania judge stays suspensions of owners, trainers

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A Pennsylvania judge has stayed the suspensions of a handful of trainers and owners who were ruled off last year after they failed to comply with broad subpoenas issued by the state racing commission.

The Jan. 11 ruling is the second stay of the suspensions issued by the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania. In the ruling, Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt rejected arguments that the suspensions were necessary to protect the betting public, as the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission had argued, and she also questioned whether the commission had the authority to issue the subpoenas in the ruling.

The individuals seeking the stays were Marcos Zulueta, Juan Carlos Guerrero, and Silvio Martin, who each hold an owner-trainer license, plus the owners Sean Mitchell and Amber Schrank, along with several stable entities associated with the licensees. They are being represented by Alan Pincus.

The case began last fall when the racing commission issued subpoenas to a number of Pennsylvania licensees seeking a wide variety of financial and communication records dating from the beginning of 2015 until the fall of 2017. The ruling states that the commission sought the records after it “received anonymous complaints about ‘hidden ownership’ and ‘paper trainers.’”

In the Jan. 11 ruling, Judge Leavitt said that the stays were justified because the plaintiffs had a “reasonable” chance to win a separate appeal of the commission’s powers to issue subpoenas covering such a board range of records.

“Whether the commission’s subpoena powers are unlimited in scope will be resolved in Petitioners’ appeal,” Leavitt wrote. “However, it seems unlikely that the Commission has the power to issue unreasonably broad appeals.”

The plaintiffs had initially appealed for stays of their suspensions under the argument that the penalties were issued without a hearing, with Leavitt granting the stays shortly thereafter. The commission then conducted hearings and reissued the suspensions.

Leavitt particularly singled out the commission’s contention that allowing the plaintiffs to continue to participate in racing represented a threat to the integrity of the sport, noting that the subpoenas were not evidence of any criminal activity.

“Petitioners have not been accused of any wrongdoing,” Leavitt wrote. “A stay of their license suspensions pending a final ruling on the merits do not adversely affect the public interest.”

The commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.