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California grape farmers fight Trade Group ads

Specialty grape farmers are bankrolling a grape trade group’s advertisements, saying the ads contradict the message they want to spread about their specialty grapes, and that they can’t be forced to pay for ads by a nongovernmental entity.

Specialty growers feel the ads of the California Table Grape Commission are filled with generic messages. Michael McConnell of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, who represents the independent grape farmer appellants led by Delano Farms Co., said these ads suggested table grapes were a commodity and that all grapes are the same. This undermined his clients, who had “spent a great deal of money to produce a high-quality and distinctive product,” he said.

According to McConnell, the California Table Grape Commission is not a governmental entity, but an industry group, run by commissioners. “We do not believe industry groups have the right to dragoon dissident members within the industry into their speech programs,” he said. “Speech is individual. Our clients have the right to speak for themselves, and they have the right under any number of cases in the Supreme Court not to be compelled to subsidize private speech in the industry. The exception to that is for government speech. 

The CTGC’s attorney, Seth Waxman of WilmerHale, disagreed Wednesday with the growers’ assertion that the commission could be deemed a private industry group. He argued it had a governmental mandate under California statute to run ads promoting fresh grapes, adding that Delano Farms had stipulated in the underlying case that “that is precisely what is being done here.”

Delano Farms and the other independent growers are represented by Michael McConnell of Kirkland & Ellis LLP.

The CTGC is represented by Seth Waxman of WilmerHale.

The California Table Grape Commission will comment on the case once the court rules.


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