Farmer Joe Cicero was ordered by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge Tuesday to stop selling Christmas trees from his popular fruit and vegetable stand at Pierce College.
Judge David P. Yaffe issued a preliminary injunction barring the sales because they were a “clear violation” of the agreement Cicero has with the college to sell produce he grows on 15 acres of Pierce land in Woodland Hills. Yaffe said campus administrators are entitled to prohibit the sales.
Cicero’s attorney plans to appeal the order, which is scheduled to take effect today.
Despite the ruling, Cicero was in good spirits Tuesday. He said that even if he loses his appeal and is prevented from selling trees for the six days before Christmas, he considers his venture a success.
Sales at the lot boomed this year as community members turned out to support Cicero, who characterized himself as David struggling against a Christmas tree Goliath--competitor Stu Miller, whose company operates more than 50 lots around the state, including one across the street from the Cicero Farms stand at Victory Boulevard and De Soto Avenue.
“Never in the history of Cicero Farms have we had sales like we have now,” he said. “We have had so much community support it’s unbelieveable.”
Cicero’s problems began last year when Miller filed a lawsuit charging the Los Angeles Community College District with aiding unfair competition by letting Cicero sell trees without giving other tree dealers the opportunity to bid for the site.
To settle the suit, district officials agreed to prevent Cicero from selling trees. The district believed that its agreement with him allowed the sale of products grown on the Pierce property. His trees were from the Pacific Northwest.
But Cicero disagreed with the college and began planning tree sales. Harold Kippen, Cicero’s attorney, said the farmer had the right to sell trees and other products not grown on the property because his agreement with Pierce did not specifically prohibit such sales and because the college had allowed them in the past.
“We feel we have a right to sell those trees,” Kippen said.
The college took the issue to court in November. A Superior Court judge temporarily prohibited Cicero from opening his lot, but that order was overturned by an appellate judge pending a ruling on the college’s request for a preliminary injunction.
Yaffe said Tuesday that the college district did in fact have the right to prevent the tree sales “to protect itself from the potential liability” from Miller’s lawsuit.
Cicero said the publicity he gained from his court battles enabled him to sell more than the 8,000 trees he originally ordered this year, and he recently received another order for thousands more. Even if he cannot sell them, he said, he has made enough in profits to pay for those trees.
“This has been nothing but good for us,” he said.
But Jim Lynch, an attorney representing the college district, said that because of Cicero’s defiance, district administrators may sever the agreement.