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Legal setback for San Diego County Fair; judge denies stay of injunction

It was a legal setback Tuesday for the San Diego County Fair: A judge denied the fair's request to stay his ruling voiding the fair’s contract with the carnival rides operator. KPBS North County reporter Alexander Nguyen has more on what this means.

A San Diego judge has denied the San Diego County Fair's request for a stay of an injunction that invalidated the fair's contract with a midway operator.

At a hearing Tuesday, San Diego Superior Court Judge Kenneth Medel told the attorney for the 22nd District Agricultural Association that by granting a stay, it would essentially render his ruling last week meaningless.

"In evaluating the harms, I still stand by our opinion that the public interest in the integrity of our institution, coupled with Talley's — with the damage to Talley in terms of the cancellation of these contracts, that the balance of harms was in favor of the plaintiff in this case," he said.

Talley Amusements had sued the 22nd DAA, alleging that it rigged the bidding process in favor of Ray Cammack Shows or RCS. Last week, Mendel issued a temporary injunction voiding the contract because he said there was enough evidence to suggest the bidding process was rigged, though he did not make a definitive ruling on the matter.

Fair officials, in asking for a stay, argued that the fair could be canceled for the third straight year. Medel did not buy the argument. He said throughout the litigation process, the 22nd DAA had argued that Talley had no standing in the case until a bid was awarded. RCS was awarded the bid on Jan. 31. It was the only bidder. Talley alleged that the bid criteria were written in a way that RCS was the only one that could qualify.

"The complaining party (said), 'They awarded the contract.' And the fair said, 'We're out of time.' I can't see how this wouldn't happen year after year after year unless we take some action to try to address it at this point," Medel said.

John Moot, attorney for Talley, said the problem is of the fair's own making.

"They could have addressed this issue way back at the end of last year,” he said.

As a show of good faith, Talley agreed to let the fair use RCS' ticketing system to sell presales tickets for the carnival for this year's fair. In legal filings, the fair said presale tickets could generate up to $1 million in revenue.

Before adjourning, Medel told both parties to work together to ensure the fair will still happen this year.

“We’re not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater. This is not what this is about," Moot said. "It’s about justice, It’s about integrity in our public institutions. ”

At its board meeting Tuesday afternoon, 22nd DAA board president Joyce Rowland said the fair is working to find a solution that complies with the court order while appealing the decision.

"I want to assure everyone that we're doing everything possible to preserve a full carnival midway at the fair,” she said.

Rowland disputes the allegations made by Talley. In the suit, Talley claimed its scores were lowered so that RCS could win the five-year contract in 2021. The board rescinded that contract when the fair was canceled that year because of the pandemic. There was, however, a smaller version dubbed "Home Grown Fun."

This past fall, the fair issued a request for proposal and Talley did not bid, claiming the bid criteria were written specifically for RCS.

Medel said the fair has a history of showing favoritism toward RCS and that colored his ruling.

"With the depositions that were taken, in which the meat was provided to embody these allegations (of) year after year of irregularities in the bidding process. Meaning we actually had evidence from live human beings under oath who were testifying as to these things," he said. "There is no one to blame."