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Law and leadership, not shadow tribunals, is the way to fix bad officiating in California

By Zach Arnold | February 15, 2015

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There is a problem with the quality of judging & officiating of certain boxing fights in the state of California. There is a built-in procedure to handle the discipline of referees & judges who have demonstrated a lack of proficiency in performing to the standards of their required job duties:

Call the officials in question to attend a State Athletic Commission meeting. Give them the right to a public, private, or public/private combination hearing regarding their job status. If you’re going to suspend them and/or strip them of their license, you have the Athletic Commission as a whole make that determination.

Here’s what you don’t do if you want to avoid litigation.

Use common sense & the code sections

First, the front office shouldn’t unilaterally issue a “temporary suspension” of an official without due process. Due process includes written notification of such a suspension, the code section that legally backs up the suspension, and a formal request for the individual to attend the next Athletic Commission meeting with the option to have their job review be made public or kept in private (e.g. California Government Code section 11126). Even if officials in California are independent contractors and work for the pleasure of the Athletic Commission, they still work for a state agency regulating a sport that is legally classified as ultrahazardous. They represent the state agency at shows just like athletic inspectors represent CSAC as permanent intermittent employees.

Second, the front office should not unilaterally issue a “temporary suspension” to an official or judge without officially declaring such a suspension with other state athletic commissions and sanctioning bodies. See Laurence Coles in Texas circa 2007. If California is going to suspend a referee or judge and not disclose that suspension to other states, that decision on its face is demonstrating bad faith.

Third, any form of discipline levied against questionable judges & officials should be only administered by the Athletic Commission as a body and not administratively. If an administrator feels the need for an emergency meeting to petition the AC body for discipline, then that is legally acceptable.

Fourth, if the Athletic Commission is going to discipline a referee or judge for their performance, the Athletic Commission body should publicly disclose the names of licensed individuals whose opinions were solicited via peer reviews by the AC body.

The controversy

Which brings us to Thursday’s CSAC meeting in Los Angeles to review the awful scoring for the Tyson Cave/Oscar Escandon ESPN fight from last December. Jump to page 53 of this PDF document to catch up on the background regarding the controversy. The three judges that scored the fight were Max DeLuca, Tony Krebs, and Raul Caiz Jr. Junior Caiz and Tony Krebs inexplicably scored the fight in favor of Escandon, which led to Teddy Atlas calling the behavior of the judges “criminal.”

Rather than officially petitioning Krebs & Caiz for job reviews at Thursday’s CSAC meeting in Los Angeles, the front office in Sacramento commissioned a report from Matt Podgorski’s Pod Index company. For more background on the Pod Index, read this recent Ben Fowlkes article at MMA Junkie.

Pod Index reports use five anonymous judges to review a fight and produce their own score cards. The report then details the wide variances in scores, what certain judges may favor when scoring fights, and proposes some drills or exercises for the judges questioned to explain why they scored a round the way they did.

What Pod Index reports do not do is issue declarations on right or wrong. That is good. What Pod Index reports do not do is disclose the identities of the judges in question. That is bad.

If I was an enterprising lawyer and my client was disciplined administratively without formal due process based on a performance report that cited anonymous judges, I would advise my client to immediately petition the commission in writing for a public job review at the next Athletic Commission meeting. I would put the Athletic Commission on the spot and make them legally explain the basis for administrative discipline without notification or formal suspension.

And if the front office rejected my client’s request for a formal hearing in front of the Athletic Commission body? I would immediately file for a writ of mandate seeking declaratory judgment regarding my client’s rights.

Closing thoughts

I agree with the loudest voices who emphasize the real problems on the boxing side of the equation when it comes to judging & officiating in California. What I don’t agree with is the justification for a lack of due process in punishing officials. What I don’t agree with is unilateral, administrative action when there is already a simple and easy process in place for checks and balances in upholding high performance standards.

I have a very hard time accepting administrative punishment against officials by a front office that put Raul Caiz Jr. in a fight featuring a 59-year old, 200-pound first-timer against a 300-pounder and by a front office that put Ed Collantes in a terrible position of having to officiate a fight last January with 54-year old Paul Nave getting knocked out by a then 2-8 fighter named Luis Hernandez. I suspect a court judge might have the same reservations.

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