A judge's ruling granting a business license to a metal recycler is likely to be appealed, two Fresno County supervisors said Friday. County officials had denied the license and maintained that International Recycling had purchased stolen metal.
Superior Court Judge Alan Simpson ruled Thursday that the county's ordinance concerning junk dealers was "overbroad and vague." He also said the ordinance, which allows the sheriff to investigate an applicant's "character," was not clear regarding the standards the sheriff should use to do that.
Supervisor Phil Larson said the Board of Supervisors would decide Tuesday whether to appeal Simpson's ruling, but added:
"I think it's ridiculous what the judge did. They've been receiving stolen property for a number of years and that's been verified."
Supervisor Susan Anderson indicated she would likely continue the fight.
"If I were guessing, I would say we would appeal it," she said.
George Thomas of International Recycling said the battle isn't over for him, either.
"We're going to file in federal court for recovery of damages for what they have cost us," he said. "Larson and Anderson are farmers, and they are behind this political battle."
Rising world prices for scrap copper, aluminum and other metals have caused a surge in metal thefts in the central San Joaquin Valley and across the U.S. in recent years. That, in turn, has prompted calls by farmers and business owners for law enforcement to crack down on the crime.
Fresno County District Attorney Elizabeth Egan's complaint against International Recycling alleged the firm operated without a license and that it failed to keep records of transactions and the names of sellers. The complaint sought fines and and restitution.
Thomas and Oliverio Herrara of International countersued, arguing the county denied the firm a business license without due process.
In his ruling, Simpson said because people bring secondhand goods that are often unidentifiable to recyclers, there "is a high likelihood that a junk dealer will eventually accept one or more items that are stolen." Because the ordinance does not require the dealer to know items are stolen, "even an inadvertent purchase of stolen articles could result in the denial of a license." This made the ordinance vague, he concluded.
The judge also questioned the appeal process for an applicant who is denied a license.
"The ordinances give the sheriff and the board unfettered discretion to deny licenses to junk dealers based on their personal whim or caprice," Simpson wrote.