A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision has ended a 14-year federal legal battle that threatened to derail the Fresno-based California Table Grape Commission.
But the commission's legal struggles are not entirely over. A similar case challenging the organization's constitutionality is pending at the California Supreme Court.
Still, commission officials welcomed the development. The U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to review a 2008 U.S. District Court decision in favor of the commission.
The lower court had found that the commission did not violate the First Amendment -- the basis of the legal challenge by the commission's critics. The grower-funded commission has been under attack for years by some farmers opposed to their assessments being used to pay for generic marketing campaigns.
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Commission officials said they are relieved the federal case has ended. "Since 1967, the majority of California's fresh grape farmers have looked to the commission to help increase demand for their product," said Kathleen Nave, commission president. "This case has been a cloud over their efforts, and it is a welcome relief to finally have it end in their favor."
But Clovis attorney Brian Leighton, who represents the plaintiffs, including Delano Farms Co., said the legal fight is not over.
Leighton said a similar case is pending with the California State Supreme Court. And he believes the California Constitution provides greater free-speech protection than the U.S. Supreme Court.
"I am proud to say that the table grape commission's statement of our early demise is absolutely untrue," Leighton said. "We will continue this challenge."
The commission's Washington, D.C., attorney, Seth Waxman, doubts the plaintiffs will prevail at the state level. "I don't think the state Supreme Court will say anything different," Waxman said. "They will come to the same conclusion, and that is that the commission does not violate the First Amendment."
The table grape commission was created in 1967 by the Legislature to promote California table grapes and to fund research programs.