Judge OKs Olive Farm Inspection In Lawsuit

INDIO, Calif. - A judge's ruling today clears the way for an inspection of a Coachella olive farm that's the focal point of a property rights lawsuit pitting JCM Farming Inc. against a group of Coachella Valley balloonists.

The lawsuit is aimed at preventing hot-air balloon companies from flying over the olive farm.

JCM Farming sued 15 Coachella Valley balloonists and ballooning companies in March 2009, alleging they violated JCM's property rights and put its workers in peril by flying over the farm's walled compound near Jackson Street and Avenue 54.

Defense attorneys earlier filed a discovery motion that would enable the farm to be inspected by an officer of the court. But before the scheduled June 3 visit, attorneys for JCM filed a motion for a protective order, according to court records.

During today's hearing, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Randall D. White said he would allow the inspection.

"Obviously, my clients are very happy with the court's ruling," said Robert Gilliland, attorney for the balloonists. "We want to be able to address the plaintiff's allegations head-on and refute them. And this is one big step in that process."

Gilliland said he hopes the inspection will happen around mid-August.

"Clearly in this case, JCM Farming has made this property front and center in their litigation," said Gilliland. "We have a right to be able to address the allegations of invasion of privacy and nuisance claims as alleged against the balloon defendants.

JCM attorney Andrew Rauch said earlier that any check into the compound violates privacy rights of its owners, is overbroad and not reasonably aimed at leading to the discovery of admissible evidence.

JCM wants flights over the farm banned, and balloons at altitudes no less than 1,000 feet in an area from Avenue 52 south to Avenue 56 and from Monroe Street east to Calhoun Street.

The restrictions have effectively ceased all ballooning in the Coachella Valley, forcing companies out of business, according to attorneys for the defendants.

A preliminary trial date was set for Nov. 28.

JCM Farming's 80-acre olive field southwest of Indio is surrounded by a 24-foot-high, four-foot-thick security wall. Turret-like structures sit at the corners of the plot, and signs warn intruders of an armed response.

Rauch said the company is based in Solana Beach but owns farms across the state.

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