Pre-Trial Posturing Continues In Marlin 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 (WMO) should receive the hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake got even more complicated in the last two weeks as pre-trial posturing among the many participants in the case continued.

Two weeks ago, the winners of the tuna category in the 2007 WMO filed a motion for declaratory relief asking a judge to disqualify all of the top finishers in the blue marlin category and award the roughly $1 million in prize money to them. This week, the attorney representing the first- and second-place finishers in the blue marlin category filed a motion to dismiss the tuna division winner’s claim to any of the blue marlin prize money.

The back-to-back motions continued to muddy the already complicated situation rife with several claims to the money, cross-claims, counter claims and consolidated claims. After months of pre-trial posturing, many of the parties involved are now listed as defendants in the case, or plaintiffs, or in some case both. The one thing that appears certain, however, is that some ruling will be made in the case in advance of the 2008 edition of the WMO. A settlement conference is now scheduled for June 16 with a two-day trial set for July 23-24.

The complicated case began in September when WMO organizers filed a complaint of interpleader 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, of Cape May, N.J., 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.

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 all of the blue marlin division prize money because they assert none of the winners in the division have complied with tournament rules.

Last week, the Stallings filed a motion asking a judge to put an end to the dispute by disqualifying the top three blue marlin division finishers and awarding them all of the blue marlin prize money.

“Hurlebaus, Belansen, Matthews and Frederick should all be disqualified, indeed must be disqualified in the interest of basic fairness to all competitors and in order to preserve the integrity of the White Marlin Open,” the complaint for declaratory relief reads. “Based on clear and unambiguous rules of the 2007 tournament, the disqualification of Hurlebaus, Belansen, Matthews, and Frederick entitles the plaintiffs to all of the Level F-Blue Marlin prize money.”

However, attorney Hugh Cropper IV, who represents Hurlebaus, Matthews and Frederick, on Monday filed a motion to dismiss the Stallings’ complaint stating the document is flawed because it fails to list WMO Inc. as a party in the case.

“As such, the complaint fails to state a claim upon which complete relief can be granted,” the motion to dismiss reads. “It is impossible to afford complete relief among the parties if the White Marlin Open is not a party. In this case, it has been alleged that the White Marlin Open wrongfully failed to pay certain participants, and it has been alleged the White Marlin Open wrongfully paid certain other participants.”