SNOW HILL – The multi-party lawsuit asking a Worcester County judge to sort out the top three finishers in the blue marlin category of this year’s White Marlin Open nudged forward this week in Circuit Court with an agreement on the procedural aspects of the case.
White Marlin Open organizers in September filed a complaint of interpleader, which essentially asked a Worcester County Circuit Court judge to intercede on their behalf and assess who among the top three winners in the 2007 event’s blue marlin division should be awarded the hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake. The complaint was filed after it came to light the second-place finisher did not score well on two separate polygraph tests following the tournament and the first-place finisher did not take his required polygraph test until weeks after the date and time prescribed in the tournament’s rules.
As a result, the third-place finisher, angler Robert Belansen, fishing aboard the “Beast” out of Cape May, N.J., has claimed he is owed all of the prize money doled out in the category including the $667,000 awarded to the first- and second-place finishers. The first-place finisher, Carl Hurlebaus, has since filed a counter-suit against the White Marlin Open claiming he fully complied with tournament rules and successfully completed his polygraph exam, albeit not at the exact date and time prescribed in tournament rules.
This week in Circuit Court, all of the parties agreed to the complaint of interpleader, allowing the case to move forward. In the agreement, the counter suit filed by Hurlebaus, through his attorney Hugh Cropper IV, will be consolidated with the original complaint, allowing Circuit Court Judge Thomas Groton to consider all of the factors in the case as one.
The agreement reached on Tuesday names Belansen as the plaintiff in the action, just as it has from the beginning, and names the second-place finisher, Bill Matthews, and David Frederick, as the defendants. In the agreement reached on Tuesday, Hurlebaus is now listed as the counter-plaintiff in the case.
The roughly $667,000 in question has been deposited with the Clerk of the Circuit Court’s office and will be doled out to the three winners as deemed appropriate by Groton following a settlement conference sometime early next year.
Belansen weighed the first qualifying blue marlin, a 567-pounder, on the 2007 tournament’s first day and briefly took the top spot in the category. On Tuesday of White Marlin Open week, Matthews, fishing aboard the “Gale Force II,” weighed a 590-pound blue marlin, jumping into first-place in the category and knocking Belansen into second.
On Thursday of the tournament, Hurlebaus hauled in a 632-pound blue marlin, knocking Matthews and Belansen down to second- and third-place, respectively. When the dust settled, the prize money totals were as follows: Hurlebaus, first place, $378,210; Matthews, second place, $289,640; and Belansen, third-place, $179,569.
Belansen, through his attorney, made a formal complaint demanding the first- and second-place prize money as well because of Matthews’ alleged failure to pass the require polygraph test and the untimely taking of the test by the first-place finisher, Hurlebaus.