The Battle Of Curlin: Court Fight Over Great Horse

Now here is a legal tale (tail?) you don't see every day. The New York Times this morning updates us on a story that has been making the rounds in the horse world for a few weeks. There are, it seems, great questions about the proper and legal ownership of this year's Preakness Stakes winner Curlin, the horse who overcame Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense in the stretch to give us another year without a Triple Crown.

Two of the current owners of the horse are lawyers but also defendants in a class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of about 400 plaintiffs who were supposed to get more money out of a huge fen-phen (remember, the diet drug?) settlement made years ago with the maker of the product. The plaintiffs in the case say that William J. Gallion and Shirley A. Cunningham Jr., who now own 20 percent of Curlin, were among a larger group of lawyers who defrauded fen-phen victims out of their settlement money.

Nothing terribly unusual about that, alas. But the plaintiffs also say that the two lawyers used their ill-gotten gains to purchase the horse. So, the plaintiffs allege, not only did Gallion and Cunningham have no "clear title" to sell 80 percent of Curlin when they did, but the horse actually belongs to the hundreds of plaintiffs. Hope they have plenty of room in the winner's circle at Belmont Park this Saturday in case Curlin wins the third-leg of thorougbred's Triple Crown.

It sounds like a classic "issue-spotter" law school exam question -- find every possible issue the case raises -- but there is a lot at stake. Curlin is a magnificant horse, and his breeding rights alone could mean tens of millions of dollars to his rightful owners. A judge soon will decide how much those fen-phen plaintiffs are owed, and then perhaps whether in fact the plaintiffs have been able to prove that Gallion and Cunningham used stolen money to pay for the horse.

From here on, a horse-race analogy may be less appropriate than one to a chess match. Gallion and Cunningham will probably try to shield from their creditors their interest in Curlin and the plaintiffs will try to attach themselves to the great horse. It's a good thing Curlin doesn't know any better -- and that he doesn't have to carry around this zany baggage with him as he maneuvers through a mile-and-a-half race Saturday.

By Andrew Cohen |  June 4, 2007; 8:02 AM ET
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You gotta love an "evil lawyers" story on Monday morning. The image of hundreds of owners standing in the Winner's Circle is quite funny.

Notwithstanding the humorus image, nothing scars the profession more than crooked lawyers who steal from thier clients. For those misguided lawyers who throw their professional obligations out the window for a second home in Florida, or to pay off a gambling debt, or to buy a racehorse, no punishment can make up for the damage they have done to their clients and to the hundreds of thousands of honest lawyers who are representing their clients' interests without incident. Disbaring, disgorgement, and restitution is a start. But only a start.

Posted by: John Q. Public | June 4, 2007 10:09 AM

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