Every so often, we will be addressing a few things: comments, decisions, people, whatever that – for one reason or another – should be tossed into the literary “muck pit.”
It is in the spirit of cleanliness, recycling, and protecting the environment that we offer this service of “addressing the muck” – free of charge.
After all, someone has to do it, right?
And, it didn’t take long for us to find a few pounds of, well, manure — thanks to some of our great friends who still prefer to run around in robes, for God’s sake — that needs to be shoveled up, scooped out, and poop-canned.
(I would have preferred to use another “s” word in the final reference. Better alliteration. More direct meaning. But we are a “family-oriented” read. At least, we try to be.)
This massive scoop is reserved for the Kentucky Supreme Court, and, in particular, Justice Lawrence Van Meter.
On Thursday, the Kentucky Supreme Court finally grew a set and finally ruled on a lawsuit that was filed years ago — YEARS — by the Kentucky Family Foundation and some of the world’s most narrow-minded and broadly-arrogant individuals.
The Family Foundation, mind you, consists mostly of people who seemingly feel ordained to tell both you and I how best to live our lives and spend our own money. You know the types. Some call them hypocrites. The “Do As I Say; Not As I Do” peeps. I just call them what they are: obnoxious jerks. But, then again, I use the layman term more often than not. If the hat fits, right?
In fact, the case has been going on for so long now that when it first started, Stan Cave, the attorney for the Family Foundation and a former high-ranking member of Gov. Ernie Fletcher’s “God Squad,” actually knew what a hypocrite was and how to spell it. After all, he was sitting in the Governor’s office as a high-ranking advisor when many of his colleagues — including his boss, the Governor himself — were issued indictments in the so-called “Blackberry Jam Scam.” But that is another story for another day.
But this Thursday we finally got to a finish line.
And, what a line it was.
Or, in this case, a group of lines.
The members of the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that the Historical Horse Racing machines created, developed and deployed by Exacta Systems did not meet the definition of pari-mutuel wagering, and were, in fact, not legal under the current statutes that permit and govern wagering on horses races in the Commonwealth.
(In fact, the opinion goes much farther than that, too. It brings into question all forms of multi-race wagering options that are now offered on live races at the racetracks, too. But that’s another question for another day.)
As a result, the Kentucky Supreme Court — which spent a grand total of a couple of hard weeks of studying the issues and the arguments — remanded the case back to the Franklin Circuit Court and demanded that Judge Thomas Wingate — who had spent years doing discovery and research on the briefs and arguments — issue a ruling that prohibits the use of these Exacta machines on a go-forward basis.
Well, well, well.
Kettle. Meet. Fish.
Truly, this is one kettle of fishy fish.
Truly, this is one kettle of smelly, rotten fish.
What a ripe kettle of fish.
Over the past few years, the Kentucky horse racing industry has invested millions on building, developing, marketing and expanding Historical Horse Racing venues. Millions. Upon. Millions. Probably, in truth, billions. With a “B.”
Kentucky Downs began the process at the little country track near Franklin, KY. A bit later, Ellis Park jumped into the fray. Soon, Keeneland and the Red Mile did a joint venture to add the new machines in a new venue at the historic harness track in Lexington. Bigger became better when Churchill Downs built the biggest and brightest showplace in Louisville known as Derby City Gaming.
And, most recently, Churchill Downs and Keeneland joint ventured on a new enterprise in Oak Grove, KY.
Each one of the new destination locations became showplaces. And, they became places where thousands of new customers showed up, too.
Suddenly, Kentucky horse racing — which was lagging behind the rest of the country — was pertinent again. Suddenly, Kentucky horse racing was important more than just one weekend in May. Suddenly, Kentucky purses were some of the best in the world. Suddenly, Kentucky welcomed some of the best horses in the world. Suddenly, Kentucky’s only professional sport was one of the best in the world.
Now, years and years and years later, the Kentucky Supreme Court — which kicked the can down the road several years ago and sent the case back to the Circuit Court once before, asking it for more due diligence — has just kicked the Kentucky Horse Industry right in the place where geldings come from.
What are the tracks to do with the current facilities? Are they now forced to close? Are those employees now forced to leave? I guess they can join the ever-growing lines to sign up for unemployment, along with the victims of COVID-19. Are those customers now left in the lurch?
Does this ruling only pertain to the machines created and sold by Exacta Systems? After all, that is who the Family Foundation filed the lawsuit against. Isn’t it? Does this allow all the other machines created and sold by other vendors to continue to operate? After all, Ainsworth has built many new games that are, arguably, more pari-mutuel in nature and by definition. Does this ruling get appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court? After all, that’s been in the news lately, right?
What does this do to the current level of racing in Kentucky, which has benefitted greatly from the dividends from HHR revenues? Do Kentucky racetracks cut the purse accounts? If so, immediately? If so, how much? If so, what does that do to the level of racing?
Leaving the Kentucky General Assembly with the ball squarely in its’ lap now. Will the legislative bodies now — once and for all — take up the issue and get it resolved so that Kentucky can move forward with a clear and decisive map on what is permissive and legal?
Leaving a lot to be desired, truthfully.
And, leaving us all disgusted with the entire process and outcome. But, more importantly, disgusted with the Court’s bedside manner and professional manners. We should expect more from our Highest Court. Much more.
I’m not going to argue the legal points here. That case has already been made by some of the best legal minds in the business. And, I’m not even an attorney. I know better than to weigh into that battle of wits. Although, I’m convinced I could hold my own.
Why in the world did the Kentucky Supreme Court ask Justice Lawrence Van Meter to author this opinion?
Why in the world?
I have known Larry Van Meter 30-plus years. Nice fellow. Good legal mind. Very learned about the horse industry, too. I always respected him and his work product. Always. In fact, I liked Larry so much that I helped introduce him at several events in his first run for the office. In fact, I respected Larry enough that I helped raise him money from some instrumental parties. In fact, Larry once called me — way back when — and asked for my assistance to help him win his lofty perch.
But I would argue — sternly, mind you — that Justice Lawrence Van Meter should have considered recusing himself from even serving on this panel for this issue. If nothing else, it should have been a consideration and a explanation. And, it is such a question that he certainly should Not have been the person to write the Court’s opinion.
Not in my view. Kettle. Meet. Fish.
You see, Larry Van Meter (he was Larry, when I knew him. I guess when you get to be a member of the Kentucky Supreme Court, you get to be “Lawrence”) used to work for the law firm of Stoll, Keenon & Park in Lexington as a young attorney.
His mentor was none other than William “Buddy” Bishop, one of the managing partners of the highly successful and respected firm and the son of the late, great W.T. Bishop. The elder Bishop was the first employee that Hal Price Headley hired to work at the beginning of the legendary Keeneland Race Course in Lexington and the first General Manager of the racing icon in 1936.
Some of Buddy Bishop’s greatest accomplishments in a long and storied career was to help raise, tutor, educate young attorneys inside the firm to represent Keeneland in a way that the track expected; in a professional style that the law firm demanded.
One of those young attorneys is Bill Lear, who still serves as the Board of Trustees and Keeneland and is legal counsel to The Jockey Club. Bill Lear — whom I have known for years, as well — is considered to be one of the best and brightest minds in the entire legal profession. Any place. Anywhere. Any time.
One of those young attorneys, too, was Larry Van Meter — until such time that he went on to run for and win election to the Kentucky Supreme Court. In my term as the Executive Vice President of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Breeders & Owners Association, Larry Van Meter served in many capacities and did much work.
Another one of those young attorneys, too, is Shannon Arvin. As in, Shannon Bishop Arvin. Buddy’s own daughter. The grand-daughter of the late, great W.T. Bishop. And, now the first female President in the history of Keeneland. Like all his children and his “adopted children” at the law firm, Buddy Bishop laid the ground work and provided the moral compass. His daughter did the rest — becoming one of the most educated, learned, successful and respected attorneys in the equine profession. More than that, though, his daughter had become one of this Commonwealth’s best barristers. Bar none.
When it was announced recently that Keeneland’s current President, Bill Thomason, would be retiring soon to spend more time with family, it didn’t take long for the Keeneland Board of Trustees to look at the “family” for the successor. It was to be Shannon Bishop Arvin.
Yet, on Thursday, this Kentucky Supreme Court thought it was best to allow Larry Van Meter to pen the opinion that kicks financial dirt right in the face of his former employer; a former client; a former mentor? The only person on the Kentucky Supreme Court capable of drafting this piece of prose was Van Meter, so that he could deliver a gut punch to a leading advocate of HHR and a leading investor in HHR technology?
You didn’t think this could be considered a potential conflict of interest?
Come on, now. Seriously?
Kettle. Meet. Fish.
And, if you think that is bad enough. Read on, my good friends. Read on.
You see, Larry Van Meter is also the brother of Tommy Van Meter, one of the horse industry’s greatest and most successful consignors. As in? Ever.
If you don’t know who Tommy Van Meter is, I will pause for a bathroom break right now so that you can google him up on your phone’s google machine.
OK, I’m back. And, that’s more than you can say for Tommy.
Again, Tommy Van Meter has been a long-time friend and associate of mine. I’ve known him as long, if not longer, than his brother Larry.
But recently Tommy went on a social media rampage, aiming his hatred and animosity at people of color. His late night tirade — which was widely circulated inside industry circles — landed Tommy in a, well, “Kettle of Fish.” Of major proportions.
Nearly every organization and association that is remotely connected to the horse industry roundly, fairly, accurately and immediately criticized and contemned Tom Van Meter for his statements and remarks. They distanced themselves and disciplined Tom Van Meter for his actions.
The most severe penalty, though, came from Keeneland — the location where Tommy Van Meter had sold millions and millions of dollars worth of horses throughout the years. And, the place where Van Meter was scheduled to sell more young Thoroughbreds this September and the upcoming months of November and January.
Soon after Van Meter’s social media posts became public, Keeneland took swift, decisive and determined actions. So, too, did Churchill Downs. The tracks banned him from the grounds. He was no longer able to access the tracks for any purpose. He was no longer welcome. He was no longer able to sell his wares.
Obviously, both Keeneland and Churchill Downs had and have a vested interest in the outcome of this Kentucky Supreme Court ruling.
Obviously, both of those tracks had and have millions of dollars invested, and millions of dollars at risk.
Obviously, most people can see that there is a potential for a conflict of interest here.
I’m not writing that Larry Van Meter agreed with his brother’s comments or opinions. In fact, Tommy Van Meter’s own son distanced himself in a public statement a few days after the comments were revealed.
I’m not writing that Larry Van Meter altered or changed his legal opinion regarding this question due to these facts. Only Larry Van Meter knows the answer to that question, in his heart and soul.
In fact, I am told that Justice Van Meter did offer the plaintiffs the opportunity to object to his standing because of his current membership to the Keeneland Turf Club. Just that, mind you. Just the fact that he was a member of the Keeneland social society.
Although, in my opinion, Judge Van Meter should have admitted to any and all perceived conflicts and recused himself from the get-go, it was an offer that the racetracks did not take him up on and accept. At that time. Hind sight is always 20-20 and it is 2020.
But I am writing that there is a potential for “conflict of interest.”
I am writing that the perception of “conflict of interest” is just not good.
I am writing that the Kentucky Supreme Court’s Chief Justice, who is a true friend of mine, should have prohibited Justice Van Meter from participating in the debate, discussion, and, obviously, from writing the majority opinion.
If the Court wanted to stir clear of any taint of “conflict,” it could have selected a member of the Court that does not have a racetrack domiciled in the jurisdiction of any member of the Kentucky Supreme Court to write the opinion.
Who knows if that would have mattered. Who knows if it would have changed a single thing. Who knows. And, that’s the thing. Who knows?
Truthfully, we should expect more from the Kentucky Supreme Court.
Truthfully, we should demand more from the members of the Kentucky Supreme Court.
The Kettle — our kettle — just didn’t need this fish.
Pure. And. Simple.
Yet, here we are and we have it.
And, it stinks.
Like a kettle.
Of rotten fish.
To high heaven.