Curlin owners threatened with contempt of court

Kentucky Derby hopeful Curlin nibbles at the hand of hot walker Juan Gonzales as he gets a bath outside Barn 38 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Monday, April 30, 2007. (AP Photo/Garry Jones)

COVINGTON, Ky. (AP) - A federal judge threatened to charge
lawyers and witnesses in a high-profile fraud trial with contempt
of court on Tuesday after jurors said they thought parties in the
case were following them and eavesdropping.
The case has been closely followed in Kentucky and the horse
racing industry because two of the defendants' part-ownership of
2007's Horse of the Year, Curlin.
U.S. District Judge William Bertelsman told attorneys they
should stay away from jurors during recesses from the trial of
three lawyers accused of defrauding clients out of $60 million of a
diet-drug settlement.
"If someone is doing this, they will find themselves in real
trouble," Bertelsman said.
Defense attorneys, federal prosecutors and an attorney for
plaintiffs in a related civil case told the judge that any contact
with jurors outside the courtroom on lunch breaks was inadvertent.
The defendants - William Gallion, Shirley Cunningham Jr. and
Melbourne Mills - remain in custody and have not been allowed to
leave the courthouse, so they would not have had any contact with
jurors, a lawyer said.
"We know where the defendants were," Mills' attorney Jim
Shuffett said.
Angela Ford, an attorney representing more than 400 former
clients of the three men, said jurors may see her during lunch
breaks, but any contact is accidental. The judge told all the
parties to "go somewhere far away" for lunch.
The trio is accused of keeping millions of dollars that should
have gone to plaintiffs in a $200 million settlement of a
class-action lawsuit over the diet drug fen-phen, which was
recalled after some studies indicated it could cause heart damage.
The defendants have argued their payment from the settlement was
typical for class-action suits.
An expert on class actions, Atlanta attorney Richard Robbins,
testified for the defense that he would not have dispersed payments
himself - as the three attorneys did - but it was not illegal or
"I would not have done this particular procedure," he said.
The trial is in its fifth week and the judge expects it to last
one more week.
Along with the criminal charges, Gallion, Cunningham and Mills
were also sued by their former clients. A state judge awarded the
plaintiffs $42 million and has indicated he will force the sale of
Curlin and other assets to settle the debt. Gallion and Cunningham
bought Curlin for $57,000 in 2005, but later sold an 80 percent
Curlin won last year's Preakness, the $6 million Dubai World Cup
in March and is scheduled to race in Saturday's Stephen Foster
Handicap at Churchill Downs.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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