Tom Rice appeals to W.Va. Supreme Court

January 25, 1998

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A Democratic former member of the state Racing Commission appealed to the state Supreme Court his removal by Republican Gov. Cecil Underwood.

Tom Rice, a Martinsburg businessman and former chief of operations for former Gov. Gaston Caperton, was removed from the commission Nov. 13 after he refused to resign.

Rice's attorney, Pat Maroney, has said Underwood removed Rice because he wanted to establish Republican control on the commission. Maroney also is co-chairman of the state Democratic Party.

Kanawha County Circuit Judge Andrew MacQueen has upheld the governor's right to remove Rice from the commission.

Filed Friday, Rice's appeal said MacQueen's ruling lets the governor exert a ''coercive influence'' that threatens the balance of power between the three branches of government.


''The West Virginia Racing Commission is to be nonpartisan and to act with impartiality,'' the appeal said. ''Its duties are neither political nor executive, but quasi-judicial ...''

The law creating the commission specifies fixed terms with members from both political parties, indicating the commission was meant to be independent of the executive branch and ''not subject to suspicion and removal,'' the appeal said.

Rice was confirmed by the state Senate to a term ending Aril 1, 2000.

Underwood has not given a reason for Rice's removal, saying he has the authority to remove members of state boards ''at his will or pleasure.''

When he was removed, Rice was urging the commission to take competitive bids for the $300,000 promotional and advertising budget the commission provides for the West Virginia Breeders' Classic horse race each year.

The Breeders' Classic is headed by NFL Hall of Famer Sam Huff, who backed Underwood in the 1996 campaign for governor.

Huff also is president of the Middleburg Broadcasting Network, which provides horse racing, breeding news and race coverage on six affiliate radio stations.

Middleburg gets the majority of the Classic's radio advertising budget, a total of $52,137 this year.

Rice raised the issue of legality in part because lawmakers this year increased the cap on state funding for the Classic from $300,000 to $800,000.

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