Lawyer Vows to Fight for California Balloonists
February 3, 2011 — An ongoing legal battle in California’s Coachella Valley has prompted a law firm’s offer to work pro bono for beleaguered hot air balloonists, many of whom have been sued out of business by a local private company attempting to prevent flights over its property. The company, JCM Farming Inc., has sued 15 balloonists/balloon companies that operate in the area, alleging they create a nuisance and safety hazard by flying too low over Oasis Ranch, the company’s 80-acre olive farm.
The JCM property has been described in court documents as “a fortress-like structure complete with 24-foot-high, 4-foot-thick security walls with what appear to be guard turrets and an encrypted security gate that warns that trespassers will be met with ‘armed response, guard dogs and no exit.’”
According to the Desert Sun website, 13 entities sued by JCM have either gone out of business, had default judgments entered against them, or agreed to the company’s demands to stop flying in the area. One company, Magical Adventure, and Palm Desert balloonists Cynthia and Steven Wilkinson and their Fantasy Balloon Flights, remain as defendants, the paper reported.
Attorney Robert Gilliland Jr. of Palm Desert told the paper he was “affronted” by the lawsuits when he read about them in the newspaper. He said he would “put the muscle” of his law firm, Guralnick and Gilliland LLP, of Palm Desert, behind the balloonists for free.
“They are trying to bully these balloon companies simply because they don't have the means to defend themselves,” Gilliland told the Desert Sun. “They seem to think if they have money they can just grind somebody into the ground in a lawsuit, drain them emotionally, take up all of their time, and get their way.”
The FAA investigated JCM’s claims of low overflights in 2009 but found no supporting evidence. So JCM is also suing the FAA in federal court.
In an earlier lawsuit, JCM said the ranch “is intended to provide a secure meeting place and retreat for VIPs, dignitary (sic), and other notable individuals and/or the companies they represent,” as well as unspecified “research and development of a highly confidential nature.”
While calling balloons a nuisance, the company has also applied for a permit to build a helipad.