Dole Food Co. finally closed the chapter this week on a notorious lawsuit that involved its Nicaraguan operations and dated back to the 1970s.

The Los Angeles Superior Court vacated an earlier judgment in a lawsuit brought by the Nicaraguan plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs claimed to have been workers on the Westlake Village produce company’s banana plantations in the 1970s and suffered from sterility as a result of exposure to dibromo chlorpropane before the pesticide was banned in 1977.

In Tellez vs. Dole Food Co., four of the 12 plaintiffs were awarded $1.58 million in October 2008. That was thrown out last summer after a Superior Court judge agreed with Dole that the judgment was the product of fraud “perpetuated against (Dole) by the plaintiffs’ lawyers and their agents,” the ruling said.

In the case, plaintiffs’ lawyer Juan Dominguez allegedly coached clients to lie about working on banana farms, forged work certificates to create the appearance that they had worked on Dole farms and falsified lab results to create an impression that the Nicaraguan clients were sterile

In 2009, the Los Angeles Superior Court dismissed two similar lawsuits, finding that the claims “were built on someone’s imagination” and were “put together by mirrors.”

The decision in the Tellez case “is the latest, and most high profile, in a string of similar rulings in cases that follow this same pattern of fraud,” said Dole spokesman Marty Ordman.

Silver Linings

Although Los Angeles County has been losing manufacturing jobs for decades, not all the numbers are bad.

The Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. recently released a report that counters the notion that the county is entirely losing out to Asian countries.

The report states that the value of the manufacturing goods produced in Los Angeles increased even as the number of workers making those goods decreased.

Between 2002 and 2007, the report states that there was a 21 percent increase in the value of L.A.’s manufactured goods, which totaled $115 billion in 2007.

“It reinforces the fact that manufacturers have a future here,” Nancy Sidhu, vice president and chief economist for the LAEDC’s Kyser Center for Economic Research.

More manufacturing businesses are shifting from lower-value products to high-value ones such as pharmaceuticals and high-tech electronics. For example, while some toys now may be made in China, local companies are still employing the designers of the toys.

“That’s a trend we should be able to maintain,” Sidhu said.

Sam Bennett can be reached at sbennett@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225 ext. 263.

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