Ocean City Today

WMO decision to be appealed

On tournament eve, ruling on last year’s winner back in court
By Brian Gilliland | Aug 03, 2017

(Aug. 4, 2017) Well ahead of the 30-day window to do so, and on the eve of this year’s tournament, Philip Heasley filed his intent to appeal U.S. District Court Judge Richard Bennett’s decision to strip him of the 2016 tournament’s prize money, and divide it amongst other anglers.

“We feel confident that Judge Bennett’s decision will be upheld,” said Jim Motsko, tournament founder.

Heasley was initially declared the winner by catching the only qualifying white marlin during the 2016 tournament. His 76.5-pound catch was worth a record-breaking $2.8 million.

“We filed today’s appeal because the district court ruling last month was fundamentally wrong. It became clear that the judge based much of his ruling on a deeply flawed assumption, and discarded facts, evidence and eyewitness testimony that contradicted it,” Heasley said in a press release. “The Kallianassa crew and I caught the tournament’s only qualifying white marlin fairly, legally and without violating any tournament rules.”

The appeal will focus on disputing two of the court’s decisions, according to a release issued by Harry-Jacques Pierre, associate vice president of Rasky Partners, a Boston and Washington D.C.-based public relations and lobbying firm.

Heasley disputes the court’s finding that the Kallianassa had her lines in the water prior to the 8:30 a.m. official start time, and the validity of polygraph tests as admissible evidence.

According to tournament rules, all anglers winning more than $50,000 in prize money as well as any crewmember registered to the vessel where the winning fish was landed may be required to take and pass a polygraph test. The polygraph provision of the rules has been in place since at least 2004, according to court documents, and is not unusual for high-dollar fishing tournaments.

Last year, four people were required to take the test, including Heasley. Three passed, but Heasley did not, according to court documents.

The tournament then allowed Heasley and the crew to take additional polygraph tests to qualify for the prize money, which resulted in findings of deception.

Based on those findings, the tournament ruled to withhold the prize money and legal proceedings began.

The case ended with Judge Bennett finding the tournament acted within its obligations with regard to the polygraph results, but went a step further and declared Heasley’s lines were in the water earlier than was reported, which is enough for a tournament disqualification alone.

Heasley had also filed counterclaims in the suit, all of which were decided in the tournament’s favor.

“For the first time in my life, my integrity and honesty have been challenged because of a polygraph test,” Heasley said in a statement. “The impact of this incorrect ruling not only has had great emotional impact on me and my family, but also on my professional captain and crew — who are fine, upstanding men and fishermen who are being unfairly branded as cheats.

“Whatever the outcome of the appeal, I could not let this ruling stand unchallenged. This has become about more than a winning White Marlin. We’re honorable people, and we will continue to fight for our reputation and the truth.”

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