Prosecutors still in race for Derby scalper's hide


PROSECUTORS in Kentucky must have either a lot of time on their hands or egg on their faces. It's hard to tell exactly what's motivating them to continue their pursuit of Maryland horse doctor Jim Casey on that silly ticket scalping charge down there. But they're back at it. Casey is being pursued with Kenneth Starr-like tenacity. When will this madness end?

Last month, a Louisville judge ruled that undercover police at the Kentucky Derby had no authority to arrest Casey for such a minor offense and should have only written him a citation, as if he were charged with speeding or "litterbugging."

That got the horse doc off the hook.

But the case didn't end there, so neither can this column. (Hey, if Jean Valjean hadn't gone on the lam, Inspector Javert wouldn't have pursued him and Victor Hugo never would have written "Les Miserables," right?)

Prosecutors went back to court and argued before the same judge that because Casey was from out of state and didn't have his wallet (and a solid form of identification) on him, the arresting officer had reason to think Casey would not appear in court. Therefore, it was his duty to arrest him.

Can you imagine? Fear of flight in a scalping case! Sounds like the makings of a Tommy Lee Jones movie, doesn't it?

Monday, the judge agreed with that argument.

So Casey is back on the hook.

He's accused of trying to sell a $42 Derby ticket for $100, the price he'd paid a scalper for it. (Odd footnote: His lawyers discovered that the one Casey tried to scalp came from a stack of 553 Derby tickets Churchill Downs had given the governor of Kentucky. Such a cozy relationship caused a stink because Churchill Downs has been lobbying state officials for electronic slot machines.)

Casey was arrested Derby Day, held in a chain-link cage at Churchill Downs and transported to a filthy jail cell with 10 other prisoners, one of whom groped him several times. Casey spent 13 hours in the clink for a violation that doesn't even carry jail as a penalty. The fine for scalping in Kentucky is $250.

Seems like a whole lot of hoo-ha signifying nothing, doesn't it?

Rarely have we seen such tenacity in support of a flimsy law.

In this case, it's a flimsy law based on a flimsy principle that police should ensure that no one other than Churchill Downs makes a profit off tickets to the Kentucky Derby. This happens throughout America, of course, wherever anti-scalping laws are on the books, Baltimore included.

Tickets to sports events, in particular, are protected by laws that discourage something that is otherwise encouraged in this country -- greed, profit making, opportunism, price gouging. This is America, my friends. You're supposed to be able to sell anything -- from T-shirts to microchips -- at whatever price the market will bear.

I don't get it. If the owners of professional sports teams raise the prices of tickets, that's considered free enterprise. If some wise guy invests in tickets he knows will be in demand and tries to sell them at a profit, he's considered a criminal.

When will this madness end?

Calling all lawyers

Pardon me while I have a brainstorm. ...

The news from Ellicott City that a teen-ager's cigarette caused last week's six-alarm fire and $2 million worth of damage must have some lawyer, maybe even Peter Angelos, drooling. (How's that for a visual?) The smoker is a 17-year-old cook who worked at Main Street Blues, where the fire started. Last I checked, a 17-year-old is a minor, and it's illegal to sell cigarettes to a minor. So, if I'm a lawyer, I'm looking for the seller, the enabler, the one who supplied this kid with cigarettes. I'm looking at civil action. I'm thinking $2 million compensatory, $2 million punitive.

That concludes today's irresponsible contribution to the perpetuation of litigation in this overly litigious society. Now, back to our regularly scheduled column.

More depressing tidbits

I see where Linda Tripp is trying to raise money for her defense fund. Is there a Linda Tripp prosecution fund? I'd like to send a few bucks. ... Every year about this time, the city of Baltimore sends a leaf-sucker truck crew to my neighborhood. This year, the truck isn't coming until Dec. 27. That way, it can suck up my Christmas tree at the same time. ... A Ravens Fan nightmare: By the time the offense is playoff caliber, Ray Lewis and Michael McCrary will be professional wrestlers.

Y2K warning

From the newsletter of Grace United Methodist Church, Hampstead, Carroll County: "Please take time out of your busy lives to check your toilet paper stockpile. Make sure it's Y2K compliant! Word has it that if it isn't, on Jan. 1, 2000, it will roll back to 1900 and turn into a Sears catalog. You have been warned." is the e-mail address for Dan Rodricks. Voice mail is 410-332-6166.

Pub Date: 11/17/99

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