View From The Eighth Pole: Jockeys' Guild Hurting Their Own Cause In HISA Lawsuit - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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View From The Eighth Pole: Jockeys’ Guild Hurting Their Own Cause In HISA Lawsuit

Earlier this year, two federal judges dismissed lawsuits filed in Texas and Kentucky alleging the federal legislation that created the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority was unconstitutional. Both cases are being appealed.

On Tuesday, a federal judge in Louisiana issued an injunction that prevents the Authority from enforcing its rules in West Virginia and Louisiana, two states whose racing commissions were among the plaintiffs filing a suit in late June hoping to stop HISA from leaving the starting gate nationwide as scheduled on July 1. They failed to prevent the nationwide start-up but have succeeded in getting an injunction blocking HISA in those two states by convincing a judge that they will suffer harm in a variety of ways under HISA rules.

One of the plaintiffs in the Louisiana lawsuit is the Jockeys' Guild Inc., whose attorneys are interpreting the judge's order in a way, they believe, that exempts all of its members from having to follow HISA rules anywhere.

In his order, U.S. District Court Judge Terry A. Doughty from the Western District of Louisiana's Lafayette Division, enjoined and restrained HISA from implementing racetrack safety, enforcement and assessment methodology rules against the following plaintiffs: the states of Louisiana and West Virginia; the Louisiana State Racing Commission; Louisiana Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association 1993 Inc.; Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association; Jockeys' Guild, Inc.; West Virginia Racing Commission; and five individuals – Louisiana HBPA president Bernard Chatters; Louisiana HBPA executive director Edward Fenasci; veterinarian Dr. Larry Findley Sr.; LTBA president Warren J. Haran III; and jockey Gerard Melancon.

“It is further ordered,” Doughty wrote, “that the geographic scope of the injunction shall be limited to the states of Louisiana and West Virginia, and as to all plaintiffs in this proceeding.”

That last phrase, “and as to all plaintiffs in this proceeding,” reportedly has led the Jockeys' Guild to tell its members throughout the country they no longer have to follow HISA's rules limiting them to a maximum of six strikes of the riding crop to the hind quarters in increments of two or fewer strikes and allowing at least two strides before using it again.

“Should HISA, or any of its designated representatives, attempt to enforce any of the enjoined rules against a Guild member in any state, the Guild intends to take immediate action to ensure compliance with the Court's order,” Kate Swearengen, general counsel for the Jockeys' Guild, said in a statement.

Not so fast, said HISA.

“HISA will continue to enforce its rules in all applicable jurisdictions, with the exception of Louisiana and West Virginia,” a HISA spokesperson said. “Outside of those states, the court order applies only to the five individuals specifically named in the case.”

Stewards have been notified to continue enforcing HISA rules.

Attorneys for HISA believe the listing of “Jockeys' Guild Inc.” as a plaintiff does not mean every Jockeys' Guild member is a plaintiff. They concede that Gerard Melancon would be exempt from HISA rules wherever he rides – unless, of course, an appeal of Doughty's injunction is successful.

In other words, if the Jockeys' Guild wants to back up its contention that all of its members are exempt from HISA rules nationwide, they'll have to go to court and prove it.

I have to wonder if the Jockeys' Guild and the organizations in Louisiana and West Virginia who brought this lawsuit have really thought this through all the way.

For years, Guild leadership has raised concerns about the absence of adequate medical staffing and concussion protocols as well as the quality of emergency equipment at some racetracks. HISA has adopted rules that will eventually mandate that all tracks provide properly staffed and equipped Advanced Life Support ambulances. Tracks will also be required to hire a medical director to oversee medical care of jockeys and adhere to a 13-point plan outlined in HISA regulations.

This looks to be a significant benefit to the health and safety of jockeys, one that was not going to happen without HISA.

One of the issues raised in the Louisiana lawsuit is the so-called Assessment Methodology Rules, which we'll simply refer to as “who pays how much?”

The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act calls for the cost of the Authority to be shared evenly among racing states, with assessments based on the number of starts per year by “covered” or HISA-registered horses. Reacting to concerns from tracks and horsepeople in states with a large number of races but relatively low purses, the HISA board came up with a blended assessment formula that takes into account both starts and purses.

Two of the states that benefited from the blended assessment formula are, you guessed it, Louisiana and West Virginia. If the assessments have to be changed to starts only as a result of this lawsuit, Louisiana and West Virginia will have a significantly higher assessment.

Like the Jockeys' Guild, Louisiana and West Virginia may be hurting their own cause by going down this road.

That's my view from the eighth pole.

 

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