Lawyers representing Gerawan Farming, media organizations and the Agricultural Labor Relations Board presented their arguments before the 5th District Court of Appeal Wednesday in a case that could give the public access to a previously closed labor mediation process.
After hearing the arguments, the panel of three justices recessed. A decision is expected in the coming weeks.
The case was prompted by the state’s refusal to allow a Gerawan employee, Lupe Garcia, to attend a 2013 hearing as part of the mandatory mediation and conciliation process.
At the time, the Fresno County farming company, one of the state’s largest fruit tree growers, and the United Farm Workers union were trying to hammer out an employee contract using a mediator. But when Garcia attempted to attend the meeting he was told it was closed to the public.
Attorneys argued that the issue is a violation of the First Amendment.
Attorney and law professor Eugene Volokh, who represents a trio of media organizations, including the California Newspaper Publisher’s Association, told the justices that mediation meetings function similar to a bench trial and should be open to the public.
Attorney Paul Bauer, who represents Garcia, said his client wasn’t there to disrupt the process; he just wanted to know what was happening.
“All he wanted to do was to be present for something that was vitally important because it affected his seniority, pay and working conditions,” Bauer said. Gerawan was represented separately by David Schwarz.
But Nelson Richards, deputy attorney general, said it’s been the general practice that these type of mediation meetings have been confidential.
“It has never been a right,” Richards said.