Saturday, May 22, 2010

COMMENTARY: Strike Three For Mayfield

U.S. District Court Judge Graham Mullen dismissed all claims in Jeremy Mayfield’s lawsuit against NASCAR last week, in the aftermath of a May drug test that NASCAR said was positive for methamphetamines. NASCAR filed a motion for dismissal in November, and Mullen ruled that Mayfield “agreed to release Defendants from all claims arising under a negligence theory or otherwise; Plaintiffs thereby waived their right to pursue their claims for defamation, unfair and deceptive trade practices, breach of contract, and negligence.” He also ruled that Mayfield and his legal team “failed to allege facts to support each of their claims.”

Mayfield has claimed that his positive test result was due to a combination of the prescription drug Adderall – which he took to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – and the over-the-counter allergy medication Claritin-D.

Lower courts had sided with NASCAR twice previously, only to have their verdicts appealed to the U.S. District Court. A trial was scheduled to begin in September of this year, but Mullen ruled that Mayfield signed documents outlining NASCAR’s substance abuse policy while applying for a 2009 competitor’s license. Those documents acknowledged the sanctioning body’s right to test him and members of his team for substance abuse at any time, and stipulated only that those tests were to be done “at a facility or facilities… that have been certified by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the United States Department of Health and Human Services and/or by the College of American Pathologists Forensic Urine Drug Testing Program.” Further, Mullen ruled that Mayfield was aware and informed that a positive test for a prohibited substance would result in the indefinite suspension of his NASCAR license.

The court agreed with NASCAR that while its testing laboratory needed to be government-accredited, the sanctioning body was under no obligation to follow all governmental procedures concerning the administration of the test and the handling of samples. It also pointed to a provision in Mayfield’s signed release stating that “the Competitor or Official shall have no claim or cause of action of any kind against NASCAR or any director, officer, employee, or agent of NASCAR” with respect to the publication of substance abuse test results. Mullen specifically noted a clause in the document signed by Mayfield that states, “I recognize that the NASCAR Substance Abuse Policy promotes the integrity of NASCAR-sanctioned racing and the safety of NASCAR Competitors, Officials, and spectators. Accordingly, I HEREBY RELEASE, DISCHARGE, COVENANT NOT TO SUE, AND AGREE TO HOLD HARMLESS NASCAR, its officers, employees, directors, agents, and such testing facilities and Medical Review Officers as NASCAR retains or selects in connection with implementation of the Policy…”

NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston called the ruling, "a powerful acknowledgement and affirmation of NASCAR's rulebook and its ability to police the sport.”

Mayfield has not commented officially on the decision, though his wife, Shana, said attorney Mark Geragos would respond on their behalf. Mayfield did post a statement on his personal Facebook page, saying, “Although yesterday's ruling was not expected and not what we wanted to hear, it is just a minor setback. I did not come this far to quit or back down. When it was our turn to depose the other side, they obviously did not want that to happen.”

He also posted an angry retort aimed at NASCAR CEO Brian France, asking, “If his name was not France, what would he be doing?” Later, he wrote, “I think we should get 100,000 people and make a statement. Anyone out there agree?”

The past 12 months of Mayfield’s life have been like an outtake from “The Jerry Springer Show.” Shortly after his suspension, his former stepmother, Lisa Mayfield, testified that she saw her stepson using methamphetamine at least 30 times since 1998. She also accused him of "cooking" his own meth until it became too difficult to obtain the ingredients. Mayfield responded by calling her “basically a whore” and accusing her of playing a role in the death of his father, Terry, who died in 2007 from what medical examiners ruled to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. Jeremy Mayfield eventually filed a wrongful death lawsuit against his former stepmother.

In mid-August, Lisa Mayfield was arrested and charged with public intoxication, four counts of simple assault and second-degree trespassing after allegedly assaulting caretakers at Mayfield’s home. At various points, Mayfield and/or his attorneys accused NASCAR’s testing agent, Aegis Sciences Corp., of improperly handling test samples, and alleged that NASCAR had intentionally “spiked” Mayfield’s urine sample to produce a positive result. No evidence was ever produced to support those claims.

Mayfield is being sued by former attorney Bill Diehl, who says his Charlotte-based law firm is owed more than $371,000, plus attorney fees, interest and late charges. Mayfield put most of his belongings up for auction in November, including 475 acres of land, a half-renovated home, jewelry, guns and cars from his personal collection.

Short of a fat cash settlement, one wonders what Mayfield hopes to accomplish by pushing forward with additional appeals. His NASCAR career is unquestionably over, since even if a higher court were to reverse Judge Mullen’s verdict on appeal – and the records show that Mullen is very rarely overturned – no sponsor will be anxious to associate itself with a driver/owner tainted by allegations of drug abuse.

As of now, Mayfield has not been judged guilty of substance abuse in a court of law. NASCAR’s allegations – well-documented as they may be – remain just that, allegations. Perhaps that’s the best outcome Mayfield should realistically hope for.

I know Jeremy Mayfield, and I like Jeremy Mayfield. But I also realize that if he chooses to pursue his case against NASCAR any further, his battered public image and personal finances will likely be destroyed for good. Mayfield is a young man, and has plenty of years left to do whatever comes next; whether in or out of organized motorsports. Here’s hoping he circles his wagons, conquers whatever demons may be at work and cleans up the steaming mess that both his personal and professional lives appear to be.

That is not a process that can -- or should -- be undertaken in the public eye.

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