(Dec. 22) Federal Judge Victor Palmer handed a major setback to three California growers who are challenging the federal government’s marketing order for raisins.

Palmer ruled Dec. 8 that Kerman farmers Marvin Horne, his wife, Laura Horne, and her father, Don Durbahn, violated numerous provisions of the raisin marketing order. Among them: failure to allow inspections, failure to hold required quantities in reserve and failure to pay assessments to the Fresno-based Raisin Administrative Committee.

The Hornes and Durbahn must pay $731,500 in civil penalties and more than $530,000 for the raisins they failed to hold in reserve for the 2002-03 and 2003-04 crop years.

Horne said he would not comment on the ruling other than that his attorneys are preparing an appeal.

The Hornes and Durbahn are among a group of central California growers who filed a class action suit June 1 challenging the federal government’s marketing order for raisins.

“If the judge had ruled in favor of the Hornes and Durbahn, it would have destroyed the raisin marketing order,” said Ron Worthley, president of the Raisin Administrative Committee.

Worthley said the penalty is the largest he can remember in his 36 years at the committee.

The Hornes and Durbahn, who own Raisin Valley Farms and Lassen Vineyards, claimed they leased their cleaning and packing facilities to other growers. Because they did not own or control the raisins grown by other farmers, they argued they were not subject to the marketing order’s rules.

“I have concluded that their violations were deliberate and were designed to obtain an unfair competitive advantage over other California raisin handlers who were in compliance with the raisin order,” Palmer wrote in his decision.