In September 2021, two California State Game Wardens employed by the California Department of Fish & Wildlife were conducting fish business inspections in the City of Los Angeles. The inspections were to ensure compliance with many Fish and Game requirements, including licensing.
Our client was a fish processor (including, but not limited to cleaning, cutting, gutting, scaling, shucking, peeling, cooking, curing, salting, breading and packaging or packing fish) and wholesaler (meaning purchasing fish from those licensed to purchase or receive fish from a commercial fisherman, processor, importer or any other wholesaler of fish) operating in the City of Los Angeles. Our client purchased fish (including tuna, wahoo, yellowtail, corvina, white seabass, swordfish, California halibut and salmon) from various importers in California and even outside California (including Mexico, French Polynesia and Ecuador), processed the fish and sold the fish to various restaurants and markets.
The two wardens visited our client’s business and discovered that our client had neither a current fish processor nor wholesaler license. Our client candidly responded that it was unaware that there was any license required, then explained that maybe renewing the license was overlooked in the business interruptions and chaos caused by COVID-19.
The state game wardens did some research into our client’s licensing history and discovered our client had never had a fish wholesaler license. It also discovered that our client had not had a valid fish retailer license since 2018.
The wardens then issued our client a citation for violation of Fish and Game Code §§ 8034(a) (operating a business with a fish processing license) and 8035(a) (operating a business without a fish wholesaler license). The citation was issued to both the business and its owner individually. The wardens told our client that it would receive a letter in the mail advising our client (and the owner) of the arraignment date in Los Angeles Superior Court.
The client was quite shaken up by this citation, fearful that its business could be shut down for its failure to have the proper licenses.
The client called a friend in the business, who recommended they call Greg Hill & Associates. The client’s manager did so and spoke with Greg Hill, who recommended that the client immediately secure the proper licenses (that very day) with a sense of urgency.
Greg then explained that he had handled similar cases in the past and described how the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office prosecuted such cases. Greg explained how such prior cases were resolved and how serious the judges are about such violations.
Greg then explained how there was a new law just passed into effect as of January 1, 2021, called judicial diversion at Penal Code §§ 1001.95 to 1001.97. Greg explained how such a case against the client and its owner would be eligible for judicial diversion and that this would, if granted by the judge, permit the client and the owner to avoid a criminal conviction that might affect licensing in the future.
Greg then explained the possible terms of judicial diversion, i.e., making sure the client gets both required licenses, maybe some community service for the owner and, most painfully, reimbursement of the Fish and Wildlife investigation expenses. Greg explained that such expenses in another case approached $4,000, which seemed excessive.
The client and the owner then retained Greg Hill & Associates. As the wardens had promised, the client and the owner did receive a letter advising each of the arraignment date in the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Courthouse at 210 West Temple in downtown Los Angeles.
Greg then appeared on behalf of the company and its owner and requested judicial diversion. The judge assigned to the case required a written motion for judicial diversion, so Greg prepared and filed this prior to the next hearing. Greg Hill & Associates also served the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office with the motion.
The City Attorney’s Office did not oppose judicial diversion, but suggested rather heavy terms: our client would be on judicial diversion for one year and required to secure the proper licensing for 2022 and 2023, each client would be required to pay a court fine of $500, plus penalties and assessments (totaling approximately $2,100), and the owner would have to perform 40 hours of community service. There was no obligation to repay any investigation expenses, but the court fines, with penalties and assessments, more than compensated for such an apparent windfall.
The judge granted judicial diversion and over Greg’s objections, imposed the conditions recommended by the City Attorney.
The client and its owner were more than happy that they each would be able to avoid a conviction and have the criminal complaint sealed once the judge dismisses the case in a year.
For more information about the new judicial diversion law, effective January 1, 2021, please click on the following articles: