A Ventura County judge has rejected a citrus rancher's challenge to a lawsuit accusing him and his foreman of endangering children by negligently spraying a toxic pesticide near an elementary school.
The ruling, issued Friday by Superior Court Judge Henry J. Walsh, allows the case to proceed toward trial.
Lawyers for east Ventura rancher Daniel Campbell had filed court papers challenging the legal sufficiency of an environmental lawsuit brought by the Ventura County district attorney.
In part, the lawyers contend the California Department of Food and Agriculture oversees pesticide regulation--not the district attorney.
Therefore, they argue, local prosecutors have no standing to bring a suit against Campbell.
But Walsh disagreed, ruling the case is not limited to establishing proper pesticide application programs.
"This is an action," he wrote, "to enjoin improper spraying based on alleged damage/injury to third persons."
Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Greg Brose, who supervises the district attorney's consumer and environmental protection unit, said he was pleased by the decision.
"It confirms our belief that we properly alleged the violations," Brose said. "And it brings us closer to actually having a trial on the merits."
Prosecutors sued Campbell and his foreman, Raul Adame, in May for allegedly violating state health and business codes.
The suit stems from two reported drifts of the pesticide Lorsban onto the Mound Elementary School campus, located near Campbell's 200-acre lemon orchard.
On one of those occasions, two students were sent home and dozens of others complained of dizziness and nausea.
Prosecutors later filed a civil complaint against Campbell and obtained a preliminary injunction barring him from again spraying pesticides near the school while students are on campus.
The injunction, the first court-ordered limit on use of a legal pesticide in Ventura County, also mandates that licensed pest-control advisors be on site during all pesticide applications.
Campbell's attorneys maintain the Nov. 8 drift that reportedly sickened children was caused by an employee--whom the rancher later fired--who sprayed in an area he had been told to avoid.
Also, attorney Archie Clarizio has said there is no solid evidence linking the rancher's Lorsban application with health problems among students and teachers at the school.