Judge has ordered AQHA to Pay Plaintiffs Nearly $900K in Legal Fees
By Jim McBride
U.S. District Judge Mary Lou Robinson has ordered the American Quarter Horse Association to pay nearly $900,000 in legal fees to a horse breeder from Canadian and a Canyon veterinarian in an ongoing horse cloning lawsuit.
Last month, an Amarillo federal court jury found AQHA and one of its committees violated two sections of the Sherman Antitrust Act and Texas statutes by barring cloned horses from the organization’s registry. Jurors also found the AQHA’s actions harmed the plaintiffs, but jurors awarded no damages.
Rancher Jason Abraham of Canadian and Amarillo veterinarian Gregg Veneklasen sued the 280,000-member organization last year, seeking to overturn a rule that bars cloned horses from the AQHA registry.
The AQHA had asked Robinson to deny the plaintiffs’ request for $891,387 in attorneys’ fees or to slash the fees, but Robinson rejected the AQHA’s request in a four-page order.
“At trial, plaintiffs presented evidence clearly demonstrating that the AQHA’s exclusion of clones made those horses virtually worthless, in turn harming plaintiffs and the market,” the judge’s order said. “That the jury did not grant “actual recovery of compensatory damages” is irrelevant to the recoverability of attorneys’ fees. The jury found that the defendant violated all four antitrust laws and that the defendant damaged each plaintiff. Plaintiffs are entitled to attorneys’ fees.”
Robinson has told attorneys in the case she will issue an order requiring the AQHA to register clones, but the parties are still sparring over the legal language in the judge’s proposed order on the cloning issue.
Top AQHA officials have already signaled their plans to appeal any order from Robinson directing the association to register clones. The AQHA has asked the court to allow it discretion in adopting its own registration rules.
“We are pleased with the court’s order on the attorney fees, and are anxiously awaiting the final court order that would include the terms of the injunction,” said Nancy Stone, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys. “I expect the court will enter an order today or tomorrow or not too long after.”
Officials at the AQHA were not immediately available for comment Tuesday.
Tom Persechino, an AQHA spokesman, said Tuesday the organization did not wish to comment until the judge issues an order on the cloning issue.
Mark Thompson of the Quarter Horse News contributed to this report.