Banned horse trainer back on track after legal appeal
GRAFTON horse trainer Joseph Golden was banned from every Racing NSW track after publicly accusing the state racing body's top bureaucrat of corruption in 2011.
More than five years later, the NSW Court of Appeal has overturned the ban and ordered Racing NSW and its chief executive officer Peter V'landys to pay 75% of Mr Golden's legal costs for the appeal.
Justice Anthony Payne found V'landys had exercised a power as Racing NSW CEO to ban Mr Golden from setting foot on the administrative body's race tracks while also demanding he pay him damages personally for defamation.
"In such circumstances, the fair-minded observer might apprehend that Mr V'landys might not bring an impartial mind to the question whether the second decision should be made," Justice Payne found.
The court heard Mr Golden wrote to Racing NSW in May 2011, accusing Mr V'landys of corruption and incompetence.
Racing NSW official Ken Bulloch emailed excerpts to Mr V'landys, commenting the missive contained "offensive and abusive comments" and recommending Mr Golden be ordered to attend a hearing to explain why his trainer's licence should not be suspended or revoked.
Mr Golden wrote further letters to Racing NSW officials, accusing Mr V'landys of corruption in relation to Commercial Horse Assistance Payments - a per-horse, per-day payment to trainers whose commercial thoroughbreds were taken out of action by equine influenza.
He said he would not attend the hearing and accused it of playing an "integral role" in misappropriating taxpayers' money, Justice Payne said.
Mr Golden spent about two hours each day from May 23-25 standing on the Grafton Bridge with a placard reading: "RACING NSW CORRUPT CEO, ROBS TAX PAYERS".
About a week later he set up outside Page federal MP Janelle Saffin's office in Grafton with another sign saying: "CHAPS PUBLIC AUDIT REPORTS $200,000,000 MISAPPROPRIATION PUBLIC ENQUIRY NEEDED".
The hearing went ahead but Mr Golden did not attend. Mr V'landys wrote to inform him his trainer's licence had been suspended for six months.
In a second letter, Mr V'landys told Mr Golden there would be a second show cause hearing for him to explain why his licence suspension should not be extended beyond six months, and why he should not be warned off all Racing NSW tracks after his conduct on the Grafton Bridge and outside Ms Saffin's electorate office.
That same day, Mr V'landys instructed a lawyer to draft a letter to Mr Golden alleging defamation.
The second show cause hearing was held and, again, Mr Golden did not attend.
The Racing NSW Licensing Committee recommended Mr Golden be banned from all Racing NSW tracks for an unlimited time period - a decision Mr V'landys accepted and passed on to Mr Golden.
Mr Golden missed the seven-day appeal period and wrote that he was "very ill and unable to lodge an appeal" on time. He was told by the racing appeals tribunal that it had no power to extend the time for appeal.
He was sent a letter dated July 4, 2011, from Mr V'landys's lawyer saying the Racing NSW chief was going ahead with his defamation case.
Mr Golden's first legal bid to have the ban overturned failed. But on appeal the court found that by personally suing Mr Golden for defamation while also making a decision as Racing NSW's chief executive officer "affecting Mr Golden's rights about that same conduct", it gave rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias on Mr V'landys's part.
The racecourse ban was overturned with Racing NSW and Mr V'landys was ordered to pay three quarters of Mr Golden's appeal costs.
The court rejected two other arguments by Mr Golden; that Mr V'landys acted with an improper purpose and that his actions amounted to "misfeasance in public office".