Hialeah Park lawsuit headed to trial

Hialeah Park lawsuit headed to trial

Internet entrepreneur Halsey Minor’s efforts to oust the owner of the Hialeah Park racetrack appear headed for trial.

Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Jerald Bagley on Tuesday denied park owner John Brunetti’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit against the city of Hialeah that challenges Brunetti’s ownership.

Bagley set a pretrial schedule, with the goal of having the case go to trial in November or December, according to Minor’s attorney, Stephen Darmody.

According to Darmody, Bagley found that Minor and Save Hialeah Racing Inc. have standing to sue the city over the ownership question.

Minor sued the city of Hialeah last year, alleging it broke its own laws by deeding the racetrack property to Brunetti in 2004.

In August 2009, another Miami-Dade County judge threw out the suit. The 3rd District Court of Appeal overturned that dismissal and sent the case back to the lower court, recommending a hearing on summary judgment or trial.

After a long absence, Hialeah Park conducted a winter quarter horse race schedule with a 24-day season, racing three days a week, from Dec. 3 to Jan. 23. Minor says the park’s heritage is better suited for thoroughbred racing.

A lawsuit in the mid-1980s had found Brunetti to be the equitable owner of the property for taxing purposes, even though he was leasing the property from the city.

The current lawsuit involves Brunetti’s historic arrangement with the city and his original 1978 lease arrangement. In it, the city agreed to buy the park and lease it back to Brunetti for the cost of the mortgage. He agreed to keep thoroughbred racing at the park through 2008. But, there was no racing from 2001 to 2009.

The city formally deeded the property to Brunetti in 2004.

The 1978 lease envisioned Brunetti assuming control of the property again. But, Minor’s suit alleges that the city should not have deeded the property to Brunetti without holding a public vote because Brunetti and his company, Hialeah Inc., defaulted on the lease arrangement by not having racing at the park.

Minor says he wants to help renew American horse racing by reviving the park. In this case, Brunetti fought back, saying he was the rightful owner. City officials deny the lawsuit’s allegations.

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