BY PABLO LOPEZ The Fresno Bee
FRESNO -- In his first trial since leaving the federal bench, Fresno attorney Oliver W. Wanger scored a knockout Monday for his client, Paramount Farms, when a judge abruptly ended a lawsuit against the farming giant.
The civil dispute in Fresno County Superior Court pitted Paramount Farms against a much smaller company, Primex Farms, over an alleged water-for-pistachios deal.
Wanger argued that Primex missed the statute of limitation to file the lawsuit against Paramount. Fresno County Superior Court Judge Donald Black agreed, ruling Monday that Primex had until 2009 to file its lawsuit but didn't do it until March 2010.
The ruling ended a jury trial that began last week and was expected to last four to six weeks.
For Paramount, Wanger, in his first trial since leaving the U.S. District Court, helped pick the jury, questioned witnesses and did the closing argument that led to the judge's verdict.
The only phase Wanger didn't do was the opening statement. That was handled by an associate, attorney Kristina Diaz.
Efforts to speak with attorney Walt Whelan, who represented Primex, were not immediately successful Monday. In opening statements last week, Whelan told the jury that Primex owner Ali Amin didn't know all the facts about the water-for-pistachio scheme until August 2008.
On cross-examination, however, Amin admitted that in 2007 he talked to four processors who told him they were losing nut growers to Paramount over water, Wanger said Monday.
The trial was billed as David versus Goliath. Paramount Farms is the world's largest pistachio processor, packaging more than 500 million pounds a year. Wasco-based Primex Farms processes about 40 million pounds of pistachios a year, Amin said.
The lawsuit was a spin-off from a 2010 trial in which another jury awarded Primex $3.4 million in damages against Chaparral Farms for breach of contract. Chaparral failed to deliver its 2007 crop of pistachios to Primex as part of a three-year agreement.
In that trial, Whelan accused Paramount of enticing Chaparral to break the deal by selling water to Chaparral when water was scarce. In return for the water, Chaparral sent 5.5 million pounds of pistachios to Paramount instead of Primex, Whelan said.
The trial in Black's courtroom was supposed to dig deeper into the water-for-pistachios allegation against Paramount. A key witness was going to be billionaire Stewart Resnick, who owns Paramount. Because of Wanger's trial-ending move, Resnick no longer has to testify.
"It's pretty amazing," Wanger said of the trial's quick ending.