By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI
A California marketing board aimed at promoting raisins is facing the prospect of being declared invalid by a state judge.
In a tentative ruling, the Judge Raymond Cadei has found that the creation of the California Raisin Marketing Board wasn't economically justified and the program should stop operating.
The parties in the case are still planning to submit briefs to the court and engage in oral arguments before the ruling is finalized.
The board was created in 1998, four years after a previous promotions program known for the "Dancing Raisins" commercials was discontinued.
Some raisin packers objected to paying assessments for the program and challenged it in court more than a decade ago, claiming it violated their free speech rights and other arguments.
In the proposed order, the judge has now agreed with one of the plaintiffs' contentions -- that the raisin industry wasn't in such dire economic straits in the late 1990s that the program was necessary.
State laws that allowed marketing orders for crops were enacted in the 1930s during a time of major upheaval in the agricultural industry, Cadei said.
A marketing board was intended "to serve as a tool for addressing crises of such magnitude, rather than as something to be resorted to in more ordinary times of relative economic stability," he said.
Evidence in the case shows that the marketing board for raisins wasn't needed to prevent the collapse of the industry, so it should not have been approved by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Cadei said.
The agency approved the board's creation based on a "situation that could be described as normal economic challenges in the face of which growers and packers understandable felt a desire to increase their sales," he said.