USA Equestrian Trust Added To Sexual Misconduct Suits; Judge Rules Morris Accuser May Remain Anonymous

Apr 30, 2021 - 12:18 PM

The USA Equestrian Trust Inc. is being added to a trio of high-profile sexual abuse lawsuits working their way through the court systems in New York and California.

The move, by attorneys for the people accusing George Morris and Jimmy Williams of sexual misconduct, means two organizations that they consider successors to the American Horse Show Association—the national governing body at the time of the alleged incidents—now are among those named as defendants. The other organization, U.S. Equestrian Federation, has been listed as a defendant since the suits were filed in August 2020.

In another development in the lawsuits, a New York judge has ruled that attorneys for Morris cannot compel an anonymous accuser to use their real name in court proceedings.

Mike Reck of Jeff Anderson and Associates, which is representing accusers in all three lawsuits along with the team from Greenberg Gross LLP, said the USEF has taken the position that it is not the successor of the AHSA.

“From the survivor’s perspective, this type of splitting of hairs and distinctions without a difference are really hurtful,” Reck said. “So, our position in court is obviously, yes of course the USEF is the entity that’s responsible for the equestrian sports. And it is the successor to the AHSA. … Was the [USA Equestrian Trust] created? Of course it was. Our position is, if they’re trying to point the finger at [USA Equestrian Trust], we have now added the trust as a defendant in a lawsuit.”

The USEF did not comment on the specifics of the case, but issued the following statement:

“It is USEF’s policy not to comment on pending legal matters. Safety is paramount to USEF, and we remain committed to ensuring a safe environment free from abuse for all of our participants.”

Alan Balch, president of the USA Equestrian Trust, responded in an email saying that the trust does not comment on pending or potential litigation.

The three civil lawsuits against two former titans of the show jumping world were filed on Aug. 5, 2020. Two named the USEF and Morris, the former U.S. Show Jumping chef d’equipe, and sought damages for sexual assault of a minor and negligence. They were filed in New York on behalf of Jonathan Soresi, a former student of Morris’, and a second, anonymous accuser.

The third lawsuit was filed the same day on behalf of Gigi Gaston in California against the USEF and Flintridge Riding Club, the facility where Jimmy Williams taught and is alleged to have abused multiple minors.

All three cases were filed under their respective states’ Child Victims Acts, which extend the statute of limitations for survivors of sexual abuse.

In Soresi’s original complaint, he accused Morris of sexual battery, the USEF of negligent supervision, and both parties of negligence. The suit also allowed for additional parties to be added as defendants as the case progressed.

The anonymous second accuser, referred to as “AG1 Doe,” brought a similar claim against Morris, with the addition of Topping Riding Club as a defendant. The court had to approve the use of a pseudonym of AG1 Doe in New York. While the USEF and Topping Riding Club agreed, Morris’ lawyers opposed the pseudonym and tried to force that survivor to reveal their identity.

In early April, New York County Court Judge George Silver, who is presiding over many cases brought under the Child Victims Act, ruled the accuser may use the AG1 Doe pseudonym.

The USA Equestrian Trust was served with a lawsuit last month in the California case and is in the process of being named in the New York cases, Reck said. They have not yet answered a responsive pleading.

On its website, the USEF website describes itself as having evolved from the AHSA.

“In 2001, the American Horse Shows Association changed its name to USA Equestrian, to better designate the member organization it had become,” the website’s “Our History” page states. “With more than 80,000 individual members, more than 2,700 member competitions, and 100 affiliate organizations, USA Equestrian oversaw 26 breeds and disciplines of competition. Two years later, USA Equestrian and the United State Equestrian Team developed a new organization; a single, unified family woven together from the many parts of equestrian governance and leadership – the United States Equestrian Federation.”

According to its website, the nonprofit USA Equestrian Trust, a 501 (c) 3 organization, has its roots in the formation of the AHSA, and broke off from USA Equestrian, the next short-lived version of the AHSA, in 2003 to become the USA Equestrian Trust. It makes annual grants to equestrian organizations, including the USEF, to support education, research and development of horse sport.

If you have been affected by sexual assault and need confidential, anonymous support, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at (800) 656-HOPE or chat online at online.rainn.org. For more information on the U.S. Center for SafeSport and their policies and procedures, visit uscenterforsafesport.org.

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