(April 13) The Pennsylvania Apple Marketing Program has insisted that it never should have been dragged into a legal confrontation with one of its former employees.

Now, with the stroke of a pen, that confrontation has disappeared and officials with the Harrisburg-based program are celebrating vindication.

The Pennsylvania program March 30 officially dropped a defamation suit it had just filed against Diana Aguilar, when the latter signed an agreement retracting allegations of wrongdoing she had made against the program and a number of its members.

“I’m happy that it’s over. I’m happy that we were completely vindicated,” said John Rice, co-owner of Gardners, Pa.-based Rice Fruit Co. and a member of the program’s board.

“I’m happy that the former director retracted all her allegations. We’re looking forward to getting things back to normal around here. It was an unfortunate cloud hanging over our heads for most of the past year. I’ve never been sued before. It’s profoundly unpleasant. It’s also expensive business, in spite of the fact that we had never done anything wrong.”

Aguilar, who was fired from her job in March 2005, subsequently accused the program, which is overseen by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, of breaking rules governing marketing boards, specifically its mandate to promote only Pennsylvania apples and not product from any specific shipper.

According to the March 30 agreement, Aguilar retracted all accusations against all defendants, including the program; Rice and his company; Brenda Briggs; R&L Orchard Co.; Kay Hollabaugh; N. Kenneth Dries; Larry Wright; Steven Linvill; Lee Showalter; and Jack Bream.

Aguilar also agreed not to repeat any allegations she had leveled earlier.

She also dismissed a lawsuit she had filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

Rice and his company agreed to discontinue a defamation suit they had filed against Aguilar March 20 in the Court of Common Pleas of Adams County, Pa.

There was no monetary settlement in the agreement. Each side will pay its own legal fees.

Attempts to reach Aguilar were unsuccessful.

“She has agreed that she would not speak to the press about the allegations she made before, and we are complying with that,” her attorney, Clovis, Calif.-based Brian Leighton, said April 11.