White Marlin Open Winner Appeals Case in U.S. Federal Court
Ruling that denied $2.8 million prize was based on erroneous assumption and ignored significant evidence
August 02, 2017—Baltimore, MD—2016 White Marlin Open winner Philip Heasley today filed a notice of appeal of last month’s U.S. District Court decision in the case of White Marlin Open et al. vs Heasley, RDB-16-3105.
“We filed today’s appeal because the District Court ruling last month was fundamentally wrong. It became clear that the judge based much of his ruling on a deeply flawed assumption, and discarded facts, evidence and eyewitness testimony that contradicted it,” said Mr. Heasley, owner of the boat Kallianassa. “The Kallianassa crew and I caught the tournament’s only qualifying white marlin fairly, legally and without violating any tournament rules.”
The June 14, 2017, U.S. District Court’s decision is seen by many within the professional fishing industry as demonstrating a lack of understanding of how fishing tournaments work.
Two areas that Mr. Heasley’s attorneys will focus the appeal on are:
1. The finding that the Kallianassa put fishing lines in the water early: The judge misinterpreted a statement made in deposition that it takes 15 to 20 minutes to get the lines into the water. In reality, that preparatory work is done on the deck and the lines are then dropped into the water at the 8:30 a.m. start time, taking one to four minutes. Dismayingly, the judge clung to this statement and then extrapolated that the boat was at trolling speed because the lines were down, when in fact it was because the baiting of hooks and other preparatory work was underway. The judge further ignored eyewitness testimony from the captain and mate of a competing fishing boat, who testified that they were in close proximity to the Kallianassa and that they did not see any lines in the water prior to 8:30 a.m. start time.
2. The court based its decision on polygraphs, which are generally not admissible in federal court because they are unreliable: The problems with the polygraphs are legion. To touch on a few:
The polygraph examiners who gave the tests admitted they gave a certain type of polygraph, where the polygraph standards referenced in the tournament rules required that a different type of polygraph be given. As a result, the polygraph examiners gave incomplete tests.
One polygraph examiner who administered the test testified in court that he did not understand the rules of the White Marlin Open tournament, nor of the International Game Fish Association (IGFA). As a result, he asked general questions that were so broad, they did not even apply to catching the winning fish.
One polygraph examiner was unfamiliar with the polygraph standards of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), which are safeguards to ensure that a polygraph is administered properly (even with these in place, there are still reliability issues with polygraphs).
One polygraph examiner used an outdated polygraph technique, called the “Relevant/Irrelevant” test, which has been rejected by the polygraph community as scientifically invalid because it does not have much better than 50-50 accuracy.
The bottom line is that the White Marlin Open directors did not disqualify Mr. Heasley, nor did any other competitor lodge a single complaint. Instead, the White Marlin Open directors declined to make a determination and sent it to the court despite Mr. Heasley’s several requests to describe the catch and present his boat’s electronic information directly to the tournament directors. The court then based its ruling on a combination of unreliable polygraphs and false assumptions.
“For the first time in my life, my integrity and honesty have been challenged because of a polygraph test,” said Mr. Heasley. “The impact of this incorrect ruling not only has had great emotional impact on me and my family, but also on my professional captain and crew—who are fine, upstanding men and fishermen who are being unfairly branded as cheats. Whatever the outcome of the appeal, I could not let this ruling stand unchallenged. This has become about more than a winning white marlin. We’re honorable people, and we will continue to fight for our reputation and the truth.”
Today’s appeal will send the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia.