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Judge to rule on Foxfield case later this month

Albemarle County Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Higgins heard arguments on several motions Friday afternoon

Supporters of the "Save Foxfield Races" congregate outside Albemarle County Circuit Court.
Supporters of the "Save Foxfield Races" congregate outside Albemarle County Circuit Court.

The fate of a lawsuit seeking protection for the Foxfield horse racing course is slated to be decided on Aug. 28, Albemarle County Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Higgins ruled at a hearing Friday afternoon. During the hearing, Higgins heard four motions in a courtroom packed with dozens of people, many sporting “Save Foxfield Races” stickers.

Eight Albemarle County residents — each of whom is connected to the Foxfield racecourse — sued in December 2016 to stop the Foxfield Racing Association and its CEO, Thomas Dick, from selling the property and ending the races. They claim the former and now-deceased owner, Marianna S. de Tejeda, wrote in her will she had “but one wish for the remainder of [her] lifetime and after [her] death” — that the property may only be used for the Foxfield Races.

“That is to apply all my time, energies and financial resources to perpetuation of the Foxfield Races in Albemarle County for the recreation, education and enjoyment of the people of Albemarle County and their friends and visitors and of Virginia who appreciate equestrian sports, competition and related activities,” the will reads. 

One of the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgement — where a judge rules on a matter without additional hearings — aims to declare Tejeda’s will created a charitable trust, meaning it will be regulated under the Uniform Trust Code, which could prevent the sale of the Foxfield property. The motion for summary judgement addresses a similar question to the defendants’ two pleas in bar and one demurrer, which are motions to end the suit for factual reasons.

The plaintiffs claimed that the nature of horseracing allows it to fulfill Virginia’s statutory requirements for what a charitable trust can be, including the advancement of education.

“In today’s society, so many people, so many University students, don’t understand what a horse is [and] what a horse is capable of,” said William Hurd, an attorney with Troutman Sanders LLP representing the plaintiffs.

The Foxfield horse races occur twice a year. University students frequently attend the Spring races, which drew in 15,000 attendees this year. 

After Hurd’s argument, Higgins asked if Foxfield’s actions could still be charitable if it charges a fee for entry.

“Teachers are paid, but that doesn’t undo the charitable nature of education,” Hurd replied.

Hurd also pointed to Tejeda’s will, which said the Foxfield Races should be perpetuated for the education of the people of Albemarle County, but defense attorney F. Douglas Ross with Odin, Feldman, and Pittleman, P.C., disagreed.

“Just because Mrs. Tejeda used the word in her will doesn’t mean that it satisfies what ‘education’ means in the statute,” Ross told the judge.

The second motion for summary judgement seeks to remove Dick and the Foxfield Racing Association from their posts as trustees — or managers — of the assets in Tejeda’s will.

“Tom Dick, who, by his own admission, did not know Mrs. Tejeda, would like to ignore her wishes and use Mrs. Tejeda’s estate for his own benefit and enrichment,” a filing from the plaintiffs reads. The defense argued that Dick did not explicitly seek to sell the property, but instead was doing his due diligence as a manager of the property by determining its value. 

One plaintiff, Kiwi Hilliard, told reporters after the hearing she’s optimistic about the Aug. 28 hearing. 

“I think we’re clearly on the winning side,” Hilliard said. “Anyone who reads [Tejeda’s] will could not be confused … we’re going to win this, for the county, for Albemarle.”

Defendants and their attorneys declined to comment following the hearing.

Upcoming horseracing events at Foxfield are slated for Oct. 7.