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Judge clears two horsemen from defamation suit

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A federal judge has released two Indiana horsemen from the ongoing defamation and conspiracy case brought by Ed Martin Jr., a former car dealer and thoroughbred breeder.

Judge Tanya Walton Pratt on Monday dismissed with prejudice Martin’s claims against Joe Davis and Randy Klopp, two members of the Indiana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, or IHBPA. Davis and Klopp had sent information to Indiana authorities in April 2010 about alleged abuse and neglect at Martin’s horse farm in Florida. Martin was exonerated in September 2010.

Martin was losing money on the farm and has since exited the breeding business, but he continues to do battle in court with Indiana Horse Racing Commission Executive Director Joe Gorajec, former commission member Sarah McNaught, IHRC investigator Terry Richwine and Florida veterinarian Liane Puccia.

Puccia wrote a letter about conditions at Martin Stables South that prompted an investigation by the IHRC. Martin’s lawsuit alleges that the investigation was started in retaliation for his various legal and advocacy initiatives.

“We’re going to end up going to trial,” Martin’s attorney, Michael Red, said Tuesday.

Pratt’s ruling means Gorajec, McNaught, Richwine and Puccia still have to defend Martin’s claim, Red said. A trial date is set for February 2014.

Martin was instrumental in establishing Indiana’s horse-racing industry, but his relationships soured in 2009, according to court documents and information that Pratt noted in her ruling. Martin was on the Indiana Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association board of directors and was hired in October 2009 as the executive director.

But he was openly critical of the IHBPA, which represents all owners, trainers and back-of-the-track workers. Martin lobbied against Klopp’s election as president, which created “lingering ill will,” Pratt noted in her ruling.

Martin’s relationships with racing commission officials became “especially acrimonious” in late 2009 and 2010. He started an inquiry into IHRC’s protection of the purse funds that Indiana's two racetracks pay to horsemen. And he successfully lobbied against legislation, favored by Gorajec and McNaught, that would have eliminated advisory committees representing the different horse-racing breeds.

Martin began lobbying Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Nobleville, in opposition to various racing commission proposals, and Kenley held a meeting with Martin, McNaught, Gorajec and others on April 6, 2010.

The next day, Puccia, acting on a request by Gorajec, sent her letter about Martin’s horse farm to Davis and Klopp. They then forwarded the letter to Gorajec.

The IHRC started an investigation on April 9, 2010, and it remains open.

Although Davis and Klopp had communicated about criminal conduct, Pratt found they can’t be held liable for defamation because they, as licensed trainers, had a duty to report suspected wrongdoing.

Pratt also agreed that they had a duty to report on Martin, even though the allegations centered on his farm in Florida, because of his extensive involvement in Indiana horseracing.

Pratt dismissed Martin’s conspiracy claim against Puccia, but left her open to the defamation claim. The veterinarian says she sent the letter "in good faith, under a moral, legal and social duty based on the shared interest in the health and welfare of horses."

The fact she didn’t send the letter until requested by Gorajec, Pratt wrote, raises “at least a question of whether the correspondence was sent because of a duty and shared interest, or for a malicious purpose.”

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