On the phone, Berg didn't sound as though she was doing cartwheels. First of all, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor, must sign the order. "If he doesn't sign it," Berg said, "it will really look bad for the (California Horse Racing Board)." She said that the amount, had her case of unlawful termination gone to trial, could have been twice as much. "Maybe at least this will be a message to the board that they can't arbitrarily mess around with people's lives. But I doubt it."
Berg cited Pedersen and two other stewards who were involuntarily discharged. "I wish they had stood up and fought," Berg said. "The racing board doesn't deserve to get away with this. But over the years, the board has consisted of people whose left hand doesn't known what the right hand is doing. Either that or they don't care."
The board's history is rife with losing cases that have been costly. Several years ago, there was a horse at Del Mar that was forced to run even though the stable veterinarian recommended scratching. The horse ran poorly and was injured. Jerry Jamgotchian, the gadfly who tracks the racing board's operations like a bloodhound, owned the horse and sued George Slender, one of the stewards. He sued Slender personally, as an independent contractor, but the racing board still picked up Slender's legal expenses. In the scheme of things, Jamgotchian didn't collect much, $35,000, but Slender's lawyers cost the state an estimated $350,000.
At Los Alamitos, the quarter horse track, a racing board investigator was let go, and he later collected a six-figure sum after the board spent a reported $100,000 on legal fees. The investigator, whose name was Ken Lady, returned to work after collecting.
"It's politics, the lack of regulation and the good-ole-boy syndrome," Berg said. "My cases have been all about gender-based discrimination, then age-based. I was 62 when I worked my last meet. I think they quit giving me work as retaliation against my earlier complaint."
In California, Berg has not been confused with a one-trick pony. She owns a ranch in Sonoma County that cares for retired race horses. She won the Dogwood Dominion Award for that work in 2004. She once operated a breeding farm, she trained horses, and she worked at tracks as a horse identifier.
Berg wanted to keep working, and said she thought she still had several years to contribute as a racing official. "The whole thing turned into a pathetic mess, just like the rest of horse racing nowadays," she said.
When there were legal battles involving the CHRB, I covered many of the hearings. By and large, they were legal mismatches, the accused hiring high-priced attorneys who specialized in racing clients, while the racing board showed up with callow attorneys, who appeared to have been chosen by lot from the attorney general's office. Neil Papiano, who on occasion represented the troubled jockey, Pat Valenzuela, came off as a latter-day Clarence Darrow. Valenzuela was seldom in the right, but the resourceful Papiano, usually three questions ahead of the answers when he had someone on the witness stand, was too clever for the racing board's best. In the case of Pam Berg, the racing board folded its tent before going before a judge. But that's still a tidy sum to be paid by an impoverished state that doesn't know where its next movie-star governor is coming from.