Tuna Winner Clouds White Marlin Open Lawsuit

SNOW HILL – The multi-party lawsuit asking a Worcester County judge to sort out who among the top three finishers in the blue marlin category of last year’s White Marlin Open should receive the hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake got even more complicated late last month when the first-place finisher in the tuna category laid claim to all or part of the money.

White Marlin Open organizers in September filed a complaint of interpleader, essentially asking a Worcester County Circuit Court judge to intercede on their behalf and assess who among the top three winners in the 2007 event’s blue marlin division should be awarded the hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake. The complaint was filed after it came to light the second-place finisher did not score well on two separate polygraph tests, and the first-place winner did not take his required polygraph test until weeks after the date and time allegedly prescribed by tournament rules.

As a result, the third-place finisher, angler Robert Belansen, fishing aboard the “Beast” out of Cape May, N.J., has claimed he is owed all of the prize money doled out in the category including the $667,000 awarded to the first- and second-place finishers. The first-place finisher, Carl Hurlebaus, has since filed a counter-suit against the White Marlin Open claiming he fully complied with tournament rules and successfully completed his polygraph exam, albeit not at the exact date and time prescribed in tournament rules.

As if the case were not complicated enough, the plot thickened in late December when the first-place winners in the tournament’s tuna division, David and Jonathan Stallings, filed a motion to intervene, in which they claim to all or part of the blue marlin division prize money because they assert none of the winners in the division have complied with tournament rules. Essentially, the Stallings are claiming a share of the roughly $667,000 at stake because they allege not even Belansen, the third-place finisher in the blue marlin division, completely complied with tournament rules.

In the motion to intervene filed on Dec. 20, the Stallings assert Belansen took the required polygraph exam at 3 p.m. on Aug. 11, not at 9:30 a.m. when he was supposed to. Therefore, the Stallings are claiming none of the three top finishers in the blue marlin division complied with the rules and the prize money in the category should revert to the winner of the tuna division.

“If none of the parties to this case – Hurlebaus, Matthews, Frederick, or Belansen – are qualified to assert a rightful claim to the prize money at issue, then pursuant to the rules and by virtue of the Stallings’ entry into Level F of the 2007 tournament, they are entitled to some or all of the blue marlin money that the court is holding,” the motion to intervene reads.

Ironically, the very reason the Stallings give for claiming a right to all or part of the prize money could prove to be their undoing in the case. Jonathan Stallings and the crew aboard the “Wet Floors” caught the first-place tuna in terms of weight, but the 259-pounder was worth only $2,000 because the other anglers in the category were in more added entry levels. Tournament rules require any angler who wins $50,000 or more to take a polygraph exam, but because Stallings’ first-place tuna was only worth $2,000, the angler was never required to take the lie detector test.

In his response to the Stallings’ motion to intervene filed this Tuesday, Belansen’s attorney Jesse D. Stein wrote the Stallings’ claim to any of the blue marlin prize money because the other parties did not comply with tournament rules is flimsy because they never took, nor were they required to take, the polygraph exam.

“Since the Stallings never took a polygraph exam, they do not have a present interest in the prize money and do not have a right to intervene in the case,” the response reads. “Since they are not indispensable parties as asserted, their participation should be denied as it will needlessly complicate the case. Even if the court were to disqualify the other contestants, as suggested by the Stallings, the Stallings cannot win the money because they did not comply with the contract by taking a polygraph exam.”

Stein’s official response to the motion to intervene reasserts his client, Belansen, is deserving of the blue marlin prize money, and if the court sees it the same way, the motion to intervene filed by the Stallings would be moot.

“Should the court declare Belansen the winner, as it should, then the Stallings would have no interest in the prize money awarded,” the response reads. “Should the court decide that none of the parties presently before it have an interest in the money, then and only then will the Stallings be able to lay some claim to the prize money.”

Stein’s response asserts now is not the time or place for the first-place tuna winners to step in and claim part or all of the blue marlin money.

“The court will have all of the information it needs to determine whether one of the parties before it is entitled to all or part of the money, or if none of them are,” it reads. “If none of them are, then the Stallings assert they are first in line to receive the prize money.”