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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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  1. Why not take some time to do some research before traveling to that Indiana town or city, and find the ones that are no smoking either inside, or have a patio? People like yourself are just being selfish, and unnecessarily trying to take away all indoor venues that smokers can enjoy themselves at. Last time I checked, it is still a free country, and businesses do respond to market pressure and will ban smoking, if there's enough demand by customers for it(i.e. Linebacker Lounge in South Bend, and Rack and Helen's in New Haven, IN, outside of Fort Wayne). Indiana law already unnecessarily forced restaurants with a bar area to be no smoking, so why not support those restaurants that were forced to ban smoking against their will? Also, I'm always surprised at the number of bars that chose to ban smoking on their own, in non-ban parts of Indiana I'll sometimes travel into. Whiting, IN(just southeast of Chicago) has at least a few bars that went no smoking on their own accord, and despite no selfish government ban forcing those bars to make that move against their will! I'd much rather have a balance of both smoking and non-smoking bars, rather than a complete bar smoking ban that'll only force more bars to close their doors. And besides IMO, there are much worser things to worry about, than cigarette smoke inside a bar. If you feel a bar is too smoky, then simply walk out and take your business to a different bar!

  2. As other states are realizing the harm in jailing offenders of marijuana...Indiana steps backwards into the script of Reefer Madness. Well...you guys voted for your Gov...up to you to vote him out. Signed, Citizen of Florida...the next state to have medical marijuana.

  3. It's empowering for this niche community to know that they have an advocate on their side in case things go awry. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lrst9VXVKfE

  4. Apparently the settlement over Angie's List "bundling" charges hasn't stopped the practice! My membership is up for renewal, and I'm on my third email trying to get a "basic" membership rather than the "bundled" version they're trying to charge me for. Frustrating!!

  5. Well....as a vendor to both of these builders I guess I have the right to comment. Davis closed his doors with integrity.He paid me every penny he owed me. Estridge,STILL owes me thousands and thousands of dollars. The last few years of my life have been spent working 2 jobs, paying off the suppliers I used to work on Estridge jobs and just struggling to survive. Shame on you Paul...and shame on you IBJ! Maybe you should have contacted the hundreds of vendors that Paul stiffed. I'm sure your "rises from the ashes" spin on reporting would have contained true stories of real people who have struggled to find work and pay of their debts (something that Paul didn't even attempt to do).

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