A judge is ready to dismantle the California Raisin Marketing Board unless the state’s attorney general and agriculture department can convince him that he has misunderstood evidence presented at trial.

In a “proposed statement of decision,” Judge Raymond Cadei of the Superior Court of Sacramento County said the state failed to provide evidence that its raisin industry was on the brink of collapse when the board was formed under the Marketing Act.

“… the record shows that there was no evidence of the kind of severe adverse economic conditions the Marketing Act was intended to address,” according to the judge’s statement.

“This is a huge win,” said Brian Leighton, an attorney representing growers and packers who initiated legal action in 2002 contending they should not have to pay assessments to the board because it was not set up within the scope of the law.

A hearing is set May 29, but Leighton said he “would be shocked if the judge changed his mind.”

The marketing board is not giving up, though. Gary Schultz, president of both the marketing board and the Raisin Administrative Committee, said April 29 that raisin officials are considering options.

“At present, the California Raisin Marketing Board is working with its legal team to explore and pursue available options. We are afforded oral arguments with the court prior to the decision becoming final,” Schultz said.

In addition to saying that the state had failed to provide evidence that the raisin industry needed help, the judge’s statement also says he believes assessments collected by the marketing board should be refunded.

Leighton said there is about $5 million in assessments in an escrow account that two of his clients have been paying into. Those clients include Boghosian Raisin Packing Co., Fowler, Calif., and Lion Raisins, Selma, Calif.

According to a court document from the judge, “the Marketing Act was intended to be available as a temporary expedient to meet serious and pressing needs, and not as a tool available on all occasions merely to promote the convenience of, or provide a possible benefit to, agricultural producers.”