Horse owners say New Mexico regulators violated civil rights

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An organization that represents thousands of racehorse owners and trainers is accusing New Mexico regulators of violating their civil rights.

The New Mexico Horsemen’s Association announced Tuesday that it is suing the New Mexico Racing Commission in U.S. District Court, saying it had no other recourse since the commission had barred the group and its members from contacting any commissioners or attending the panel’s regular public meetings.

The commission took action to limit communication after the horse owners sued in December to stop the commission from using purse money to cover operating costs at the state’s five privately-owned race tracks.

The commission also voted earlier this year to prohibit association members from contributing 1% of their purse winnings to the association and ending the contribution of starter fees that fund medical expenses as well as fees that go toward advocacy efforts. That prompted another legal challenge by the association in state district court.

The commission has not commented on any of the pending litigation.

Gary Mitchell, the association’s attorney, accused the commissioners — who are appointed by the governor — of deliberately attempting to do away with the horse owners association and change how purse money is distributed and for what purposes.

“They wish to get their hands on this money and use it how they see fit — which is basically to pay the costs of running the racetrack,” Mitchell said, noting that would allow more money to go into the tracks’ associated casinos.