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Margarito v. State Athletic Commission

October 14, 2010


APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. David Yaffe, Judge. Affirmed. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BS120436).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chavez, J.


Plaintiff and appellant Antonio Margarito (Margarito) appeals from the trial court's denial of his petition for writ of mandate seeking to compel defendant and respondent California State Athletic Commission (the Commission) to set aside its order revoking Margarito's professional boxing license. The Commission revoked Margarito's license because its inspectors found gauze pads that had been adulterated with a white plaster-like substance in the protective hand wraps Margarito was to wear during a championship contest against another boxer in Los Angeles. The use of such adulterated pads is prohibited by professional boxing rule 323 (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 4, § 323) (rule 323).*fn1

Margarito contends his trainer placed the adulterated pads in the hand wraps without his knowledge or consent, and that there was no legal basis to revoke his license based on strict or vicarious liability. Margarito further contends his due process rights were violated because the Commission unfairly changed its theory of liability during the course of the administrative hearing and because the prosecutor withheld exculpatory evidence.

We conclude that no due process violation occurred and that the professional boxing rules allowed the Commission to hold Margarito strictly liable for the rule violation that occurred here and to revoke his license on that basis. We therefore affirm the judgment.


1. The Parties

Margarito is a professional boxer who has fought more than 30 times across the United States, including more than half a dozen championship fights. Margarito was licensed by the Commission as a professional boxer in California from the mid-1990's until 2009 when his license was revoked.

The Commission is the agency with sole jurisdiction over professional boxing in California and is responsible for adopting and enforcing the professional boxing rules in this state. The Commission has the authority to issue, suspend, and revoke boxing licenses in California. (Bus. & Prof. Code, §§ 18602, 18604, 18642, 18842, 18844.)*fn2

2. The Illegal Hand Wraps

Margarito was scheduled to fight Shane Mosley (Mosley) in a welterweight championship boxing contest in Los Angeles on January 24, 2009. Margarito's trainer, Javier Capetillo (Capetillo), was responsible for preparing the hand wraps, bandages, and tape used to protect Margarito's hands during the contest. Capetillo was a professional trainer who had worked with many professional boxers during his 38-year career as a trainer. During his 11 years as Margarito's trainer, Capetillo was the only person who wrapped Margarito's hands before a boxing contest.

Before the contest with Mosley, Capetillo was wrapping Margarito's hands while four Commission inspectors and Mosley's trainer observed the process. After Capetillo finished wrapping Margarito's right hand, Mosley's trainer asked the inspectors to physically inspect a pre-made gauze "knuckle pad" insert that Capetillo was about to wrap over Margarito's left hand. The inspectors found that the inner layers of the pad were discolored and that the pad felt harder than it should have. In a report prepared after the inspection, Commission Inspector Che Guevara (Guevara) described the gauze pad removed from Margarito's left hand as "dirty-looking" and smeared with a white substance that looked like plaster and was hard to the touch. Concluding that the pad violated the rules, the inspectors confiscated the pad and instructed Capetillo to prepare a new one.

Mosley's trainer then asked the inspectors to examine the gauze insert in Margarito's already wrapped right hand. Margarito insisted there was nothing in the right hand wrapping, and held his hand out saying, "Touch it. Feel it. Go ahead. There is nothing in it." The inspectors ordered the wrapping removed and found a similar improperly hardened pad, which they confiscated. After Capetillo prepared two new knuckle pads, the inspectors approved Margarito's hand wraps and allowed Margarito to proceed with the boxing match.

In a letter dated January 27, 2009, the Commission notified Margarito that his boxing license was temporarily suspended pending a final determination of the case. The Commission explained the reason for the suspension as follows:

"This action is taken because of your recent participation in what appears to be a violation of rule 323. Rule 323 limits the use of gauze and tape on an athlete's hands and requires that both contestants be represented while the gauze and tape are applied. The rule also prescribes the manner in which the gauze and tape is applied to an athlete's hands. Here, it appears that a foreign substance was used in the hand-wraps in violation of Rule 323. [¶] Additionally, Commission rule 390 allows the commission to revoke, fine, suspend or otherwise discipline any licensee who 'conducts himself or herself at any time or place in a manner which is determined by the Commission to reflect discredit to boxing.'"

The Commission set a formal hearing on the matter for February 10, 2009.

3. Administrative Hearing

At the February 10, 2009 hearing, Commission Inspectors Guevara, Dean Lohuis (Lohuis), and Mike Bray (Bray) all testified that they felt the knuckle pads Capetillo initially placed in Margarito's hand wraps before the Mosley fight and that the pads felt harder than allowed by the applicable rules and were confiscated. After feeling one of the confiscated pads at the hearing, Margarito admitted that he felt something hard. Capetillo admitted that the confiscated pads violated the applicable rules, and acknowledged that had they been used, they could have seriously injured Margarito's opponent.

The commissioners at the hearing inspected one of the pads that had been confiscated from Margarito's hand wraps and compared it to the soft gauze that is used to wrap a boxer's hand before a contest. The other confiscated pad was sent to the Department of Justice's forensic laboratory for evaluation, where it was photographed under a microscope at six times magnification. The photographs were presented as evidence at the hearing.

At the conclusion of the hearing, all seven commissioners voted unanimously to revoke Margarito's license.

4. The Commission's Decision

In a written decision issued on March 31, 2009, the Commission found that the knuckle pads removed from Margarito's hand wraps before the Mosley fight on January 24, 2009, had been adulterated with a white plaster-like substance. The Commission concluded that the use of adulterated knuckle pads by a boxer seriously endangers the boxer's opponent and gives the boxer an unfair advantage that causes discredit to boxing. The Commission further concluded that "[b]ecause [Margarito] violated Commission Rule 323 there is sufficient ...

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