No decision reached in recycling center civil case against Kern County

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) The future of Community Recycling & Resource Recovery Inc. near Lamont remains in question through the weekend as the judge overseeing the civil trial between the company and Kern County extended the trial one more day.

Community Recycling and the Lamont Public Utilities District is accusing the Kern County Board of Supervisors of breaking the law when it unanimously ordered the company shut down its operations one month after the deaths of two brothers at the facility.

Armando Ramirez, 16, and his 22-year-old brother Heladio, died on Oct. 12, 2011, after inhaled toxic gases during the cleaning of a storm drain system.

Superior Court Judge J. Eric Bradshaw asked the attorneys Friday to reconvene on Monday, saying he needed more time to hear arguments, as the trial was expected to last only two days.

Both sides presented arguments in day two of the trial, including the first arguments from lawyers representing the county.

Attorneys representing Community Recycling and the LPUD said that county supervisors made their decision to revoke the company's conditional use permit based on "passion" and "emotion," rather than fact and evidence.

They said the board was also acting as a quasi-court on the night of the revocation, citing a county statute that requires judges and juries to "not let sympathy, prejudice or public opinion influence" a decision.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs also argued environmental and economic issues that would rise with the permanent closure of the facility.

They said the company, which employs about 130 people, also works with over one thousand grocery stores, processing and recycling 24 percent of the state's compostable waste.

But attorney's representing Kern County argued that supervisors were forced to shut down the company after Cal/OSHA investigators found several repeated violations in the days after the deaths.

They said that the regulator had issued a closure of dangerous area at the recycling center, which was then violated five times by the company when it hired companies to go in and clean up the area.

The lawyers argued that supervisors thought Cal/OSHA's orders were not sufficient enough to keep employees out of the toxic area, requiring them to order a revocation of Community Recycling's conditional use permit, which was reinstated by a judge shortly after pending the result of this trial.

Judge Bradshaw asked tough questions to both sides during the case.

He noted the company's failure to follow orders from regulators immediately after the incident.

He also asked the county why they considered the site to be so dangerous -- to the point that they felt the need to shut down the company's operations -- even though one of its supervisors had visited the site on her own in the days following the incident.

Representatives from both sides of the case said the judge has been fair during the short trial, thus far.

The judge is scheduled to hear the remaining arguments on Monday and is expected to issue a ruling shortly thereafter.