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By Zach Arnold | May 25, 2016
In America, there are three major bodies of law: criminal, civil, and administrative. Commissions like the Nevada State Athletic Commission are administrative but often get carried away in regards to what the scope of their authority is.
Last month, we detailed major changes coming to Nevada’s commission in regards to both their financial & legal obligations. Nevada’s state budget is transitioning the commission from general funding to self-funding, meaning there is no longer a blank check for funding expenditures. The Athletic Commission got hit with a fat legal bill for years of work the Attorney General’s office did for them in the past.
As a result of the funding mechanism being changed, the Athletic Commission is backed against the wall. With out-of-competition drug testing, disciplinary hearings, administrative costs of handling paperwork & medical records, and all the drama surrounding combat sports, a lot of resources are required. Nevada’s commission has always prided itself on having a lean, efficient, prompt operation.
Now the money’s drying up and without Floyd Mayweather fights on the horizon, a change in philosophy is occurring in Las Vegas. For fighters and their due process rights, it may not be for the better.
At Wednesday’s meeting in Las Vegas, the Athletic Commission discussed pending changes for punishment of licensees after June 21st. There are three big philosophical & governing changes:
- A dramatic increase in suspension penalties for fighters who fail drug tests or commit other infractions.
- A heavy push for plea bargains/settlement agreements to avoid an appeals process.
- Recognition of drug test results from third-party drug testing agencies and the ability to suspend fighters for failing USADA or VADA tests.
Nevada’s commission had a choice after they were removed from general funding: 1) be more selective in punishing fighters and picking their battles, or 2) throw the book at everyone by overcharging & criminalizing to force settlement agreements.
The commissioners, at Wednesday’s meeting, openly discussed how jacking up punishments for suspensions would … encourage … licensees into negotiating settlement agreements with the Attorney General’s office. One of the major goals behind this push, according to the commissioners, is to push for settlement agreements in order to prevent the Athletic Commission from paying thousands of dollars in legal bills to the AG’s office for investigating & compiling evidence for presentation at an appeals hearing. It is not unreasonable for the average person to come to the conclusion that the principle of a trial tax is at stake here.
It does not end there. An important part of future settlement agreements involves the language used in the documents. We saw this new policy at work at Wednesday’s meeting for the disciplinary phase of MMA fighter Andrea Lee-Aaron. She was suspended for a positive drug test involving diuretics. Andrea’s attorney and the AG’s office reached a settlement agreement but had a dispute over legal language. According to the fighter’s attorney, the AG’s office and the commission wanted language stating that his client was guilty rather than liable or at fault.
The Athletic Commission is not a criminal or civil court. The fighter’s attorney had every right to raise the issue of an administrative body calling his client “guilty” and worrying about what future employers doing a background check would think of such an official document leveling that language.
A motion was passed to approve the settlement agreement contingent on both the fighter’s attorney and the AG’s office finalizing appropriate legal language. This was not the first time at Wednesday’s meeting that deputy AG Caroline Bateman was accused of over-stepping her bounds. Nevada commissioner Pat Lundvall raked Bateman over the coals in overcharging promoter Roy Englebrecht for forgery and ID theft when there was not enough evidence to prove specific intent in a clear & convincing manner. The irony is thick: the same body that accused Bateman of overcharging is now going to use the same strategy after June 21st in order to save money while keeping their tough-guy status in tact and the Athletic Commission will have no better ally in enforcing this strategy than Caroline Bateman.