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Edwards HPA Trial Suspended

Editor's Note:  The following was submitted by Alie Napier, an attorney with the Norton Law Firm, who represents the Edwards.

As many of you may know, the first HPA trial involving a post-show scar rule prosecution began this past Tuesday, May 17, 2016.  For those that did not know, the allegations involved two horses, three people and one training facility.  The USDA was prosecuting Gary Edwards, Paige Edwards, and Carl Edwards and Sons Stables for a post-show scar rule violation written by Dr. Jeffery Baker at the 2010 Celebration on the horse “A Victoria Secret” following her win in the 15-17 preliminary class.  Additionally, the USDA was prosecuting Larry Edwards, Paige Edwards and Carl Edwards and Sons Stables for a post-show scar rule violation written by Dr. Jeffery Baker at the 2012 Celebration on the horse “He’s Unleashed” following his third place tie in his preliminary stake class division.

After three days of trial, the attorney for the USDA moved to suspend the trial because the government had failed to provide the Edwards’ attorneys with certain exhibits prior to the hearing commencing as required by the Rules of Practice and Procedure.  The only remedy available to the USDA to cure this mishap was to ask for a continuance so the Edwards and their attorneys would be provided ample time to review the evidence and prepare their defense.  The Court granted the continuance and the hearing will resume, presumably if the case is not settled, sometime next year.

While this is not the exact outcome those involved wanted at this time, there were definitely some positives and several legal victories for our industry that should not be overlooked.  First, about half way through the hearing on Wednesday, May 18, 2016, the USDA agreed to dismiss with prejudice Paige Edwards from both cases.  Mrs. Edwards was alleged to have signed the Celebration entry form and was being prosecuted for that reason.  After the Edwards’ attorney argued that the entry process was completed once a horse entered and finished the show, the USDA, while not agreeing to that argument on record, did agree to dismiss with prejudice Mrs. Edwards from any further prosecution in both cases.

Second, and in my opinion the biggest scar rule victory we, as an industry, have received in years, was that the Judge, Honorable Jill Clifton, went on record to say that she does not like the scar rule.  She felt it was extremely subjective and would urge all involved to find a more objective way to resolve this issue.  She even went on to opine that she believed the Edwards family has abided to the Sound Horse, Honest Judging, Objective Inspections, and Winning Fairly theories embodied by the SHOW, HIO, and that the Edwards were fighting these allegations because they truly felt the VMO was mistaken in his subjective decision to write both horses up for a scar rule violation.  Once the transcript of the hearing is received, we will hopefully be able to make her announcement on record available for the public.

Unfortunately, the legal process is an extremely slow process.  The administrative proceedings for HPA cases are even slower.  There are currently only two judges and a handful of attorneys prosecuting all USDA matters, including HPA cases.  So, while it may be some time before we get the opportunity for a specific ruling on a scar rule prosecution, I think the small victories from this week should not be overlooked.        

Alie Napier

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