- Created on Tuesday, 10 April 2012
- Written by Mark Thompson
- Hits: 466
Lainie Whitmire and her husband, Ray Whitmire, Salisaw, Okla., filed a notice of appeal through their attorney Jim Walker, Dallas, after an April 15, 2011, final judgment by 236th District Court Judge Tom Lowe. The judge’s ruling overturned a January, 2011 10-2 civil jury verdict three months after the two-week trial.
A three-justice panel of the Second District Court of Appeals heard arguments from both sides in its courtroom Tuesday, April 10.
A jury had determined the NCHA broke an oral legal agreement with Whitmire to restore her Non-Pro riding privileges, following a voluntary six-month suspension, and that NCHA members “falsely imprisoned” her during an unscheduled meeting regarding her eligibility at Will Rogers Coliseum in Fort Worth, during the 2004 NCHA Futurity.
While it did not award damages on the false imprisonment finding, the jury awarded Whitmire $70,000 for a perceived loss in value to three horses her family owned, due to her suspension from the NCHA, and her inability to compete with them at cutting events.
Judge Lowe ruled later the jury did not receive enough evidence to support its verdict. While overturning its decision, including its award of damages to Whitmire, he instead ordered Lainie and Ray Whitmire to reimburse the NCHA $347,000 in legal expenses.
Prior to the trial, Judge Lowe at one point dismissed the portion of the case dealing with the alleged broken oral agreement, ruling there was not sufficient evidence to take that issue to trial. The Second District Court of Appeals later reversed that decision. It determined a jury could make the call, or the judge could at least hear all the evidence before deciding whether it's sufficient.
The jury, by a 10-2 majority, decided there was enough evidence during the eventual trial, as it ruled in favor of Whitmire. The judge later ruled there was still insufficient evidence for the jury to have reached that conclusion.
Now, the appellate court must determine whether the judge or the jury made the right call. To aid that decision, it listened to oral arguments on April 10 from the attorneys representing both sides. The three-justice panel also asked them a few questions.
Representing Whitmire, Walker said the trial court erred in overturning the jury’s verdict “when there was circumstantial evidence, direct evidence, and testimony.”
Representing the NCHA, Morris said the trial court judge had no choice but to overturn the jury’s verdict because “several elements [of Whitmire’s case] were proven to be unsubstantiated.”
A pivotal point in the trial involved a duel of conflicting testimonies from Lainie Whitmire’s former attorney, Clark Brewster, and NCHA legal representative Eldridge Goins. The two presented decidedly differing versions of their alleged “agreement.”
One appellate court justice asked, “Wasn’t it up to the jurors to decide whether they believed Mr. Brewster or Mr. Goins? How could you ever prove the opposite of that?”
Whitmire’s attorney Walker agreed, stating, “Mr. Goins said Mr. Brewster was lying. Mr. Brewster, on the other hand, testified it was Mr. Goins that had misplaced recollection.”
Morris argued Goins never even had the authority to make the alleged “verbal” deal he was accused of making. Morris also re-visited a major point of the NCHA’s defense – that the alleged oral agreement directly contradicts a written agreement regarding the case.
Walker disputed the district court judge’s decision overturning the jury’s $70,000 award to Whitmire, and then replacing it with a requirement that the Whitmires repay $347,000 in NCHA legal fees. Morris said that’s “not even half” the fees his legal team actually accrued, and argued the judge was within his legal rights in making the decision.
Right at the 40-minute mark, one of the three appellate court justices simply said, “Thank you. We appreciate all your arguments. They have been submitted. And we are now adjourned.”
Eventually, the appellate court will issue its ruling in writing. Attorneys for both sides agreed one thing. There’s no way of knowing at this point when that ruling will occur.