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Judge orders some Charles Town Races & Slots stalls to be emptied

September 12, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. -- At least five horsemen will have to remove their animals and equipment from some, if not all, of their stalls at Charles Town Races & Slots by Wednesday at noon after a judge denied a temporary restraining order in an emerging dispute over stable agreements.

Attorneys for the Charles Town Horsemen's Benevolent Protective Association (HBPA) and Penn National Gaming Inc., which owns the racetrack, confirmed that 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge David H. Sanders made the ruling Friday during a hearing in Jefferson County Circuit Court.

The decision arises from a civil action filed against Charles Town Races & Slots this week by attorney David M. Hammer on behalf of Tina Mawing, George Yetsook, Lynn Venham, Robert Bir, John Milton and the Charles Town HPBA, which represents the horsemen.

Hammer is claiming that the HBPA members he is representing were stripped of stalls at the racetrack without due process and without any option of appeal after receiving a hand-delivered notice Aug. 29 telling them they had to leave by Friday.

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Attorney Brian M. Peterson, who represented Charles Town Races & Slots at the hearing, confirmed Friday that the track extended the deadline to next week, but pointedly disagreed with Hammer's arguments that Mawing was being targeted because of her testimony in a recent West Virginia Racing Commission proceeding involving Charles Town HBPA president Raymond J. "Randy" Funkhouser.

Hammer alleges in his civil action that the racetrack was also motivated to discriminate against Mawing for voicing concerns to a number of racing officials and the state's governor about the use of powdered rodent poisoning around her barn area.

"The plaintiff believes that (the racetrack's) improper application of said rodent poisoning sickened and killed one of her thoroughbred horses and companion goat," Hammer said in the action he filed.

Hammer said the reductions imposed upon Yetsook also were believed to be tied to his testimony in the Racing Commission proceeding. Funkhouser declined to comment about the court ruling Friday, deferring to Hammer.

Peterson said he has not filed a response on behalf of the track, but indicated the reductions in stalls were part of a periodic review process. He also confirmed there were currently about 140 vacant stalls at the track, excluding the stall reductions about to go into effect. Hammer said Charles Town Races & Slots is contracted with the Charles Town HBPA to hold 1,148 stalls for the horsemen group's members.

The dispute over the allocation of stalls is expected to be part of arbitration, Hammer said.

Yet, given the vacancies, "we don't understand why people are losing stalls," Hammer said.

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