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Judge tosses out carnival contract for San Diego County Fair

Juggler Mark Wilder entertaining guests at the San Diego County Fair, June 11, 2021.
Alexander Nguyen
Juggler Mark Wilder entertaining guests at the San Diego County Fair, June 11, 2021.

A San Diego judge on Tuesday issued an injunction on a contract for a single operator to run the carnival games and rides at the San Diego County Fair.

In his ruling, Judge Kenneth Medel said there was enough evidence to suggest that the bidding process was rigged to favor Arizona-based Ray Cammack Shows (RCS).

“There is a probability of prevailing on the claim that the bid was tailored specifically for one bidder,” he wrote in the 14-page ruling. “There is at least the appearance of favoritism, which is contrary to public policy.”


RELATED: San Diego County Fair opens with excitement

California's public contracting laws are designed to have an open and competitive bidding process.

RCS was awarded the five-year contract on Jan. 31. In response, Texas-based Talley Amusements filed a lawsuit alleging corruption, favoritism and bid-rigging during the selection process.

The ruling brings into question the fair's ability to have carnival rides and games — a major attraction at the annual event. But John Moot, Talley's lawyer, said the ruling was the right one.

"Even though the fair is relatively close, the judge felt that the public policy at stake was very important, that we couldn't have public contracts that had been rigged and violated the code and felt that the integrity of the competitive bidding process and the integrity of governmental institutions were at stake," he said


This is the latest in the legal battle against the 22nd District Agricultural Association (DAA), the state agency that oversees the fair, Talley and RCS.

The fair switched from having multiple carnival ride vendors to a single operator in 2018 for efficiency and to save money.

In 2021, RCS won the contract to run the midway where carnival rides and games are held, but Talley, the only other bidder, filed a protest saying the fair officials lowered Talley's score to award RSC the bid.

Moot said Del Mar Fairgrounds chief administrative officer Melinda Carmichael admitted in deposition that she changed the score.

"I said: 'Well, where's your original score sheet?'" he said. "And she said, 'Oh, I shredded it,' which, of course, violates the very terms of the request proposal that requires them to save all the score sheets."

The 22nd DAA canceled that contract, saying there would be no fair for 2021 because of the pandemic. The district, however, mounted a smaller version of the fair called Home Grown Fun.

Last fall, the district issued another request for bidders to run the midway. Talley did not submit a bid but filed a lawsuit, contending that it was the rightful winner of the 2021 five-year contract and it should be the company running this year's fair.

Talley also alleged the bid criteria were written so that RCS was the only one that qualified.

In a statement, fair officials say they are considering all options and will have a decision in the coming days.

"With fewer than 10 weeks before the start of the fair, the 22nd DAA is committed to doing everything it can to save this beloved summer ritual that is enjoyed by 1.5 million San Diegans and Californians," the statement said.

The San Diego County Fair is slated to open June 8.

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