Law students BreAnne Ruelas, left, and Allison Ryan discuss edits on an article to be included in this year’s San Joaquin Agricultural Law Review put out by San Joaquin College of Law in Clovis. (Photo by David Castellon)
Written by David Castellon, Business Journal Reporter

Back in 1990, David Weiland and a group of fellow students at the San Joaquin College of Law were given a daunting task — create and publish the school’s first law review.

In some respects, it might not have seemed a difficult job. After all, law schools have lengthy traditions of publishing law reviews, in which lawyers and students research legal cases and laws, dissect their intricacies and render opinions that can be cited in new legal cases.

Some, including the Harvard Law Review, have been published for more than a century.

But in early 1990s, the students at the small Clovis-based college didn’t have decades of history or alumni who had previously put together law reviews to tell the students how to go about doing it, recounted Weiland, now a successful Fresno lawyer.

“The law school hired the school’s first full-time faculty member back around that time. He was John Evans. He came up with the idea of doing something like this for the first time,” which not only involved creating a law review from scratch, but also having it focus on agricultural law, the attorney said.

And once the college dean jumped onboard, work quickly began on creating a law review.

While some law reviews focus on specific types of law — corporate, civil rights, criminal, etc. — one focusing on agricultural law was a first in the country, though it did turn out to be a good fit for a law school in California’s Central Valley, the most agriculturally-rich area of the U.S., noted Janet Pearson, the current dean of SJCL.

Despite the challenges, the students who compromised the board of the first law review — essentially recruiting lawyers and students to write articles and opinions, as well as editing and fact checking the articles — had some advantages, which included having Evans as an advisor who drew on his own law review experience.

Another advantage may have been that each of the members of that first law review board didn’t share the same demographic as most 20-something law students. Each happened to be in their 30s or 40s, all having turned to law as second careers.

“It was an exciting opportunity, but it was intimidating of not having done it before,” said Weiland, who was 42 years old at the time, having enrolled in law school after leaving a career as a civil engineer. “There were no second- and third-year law students telling us what to do.”

He added that the group’s maturity likely helped them work well together in putting together that first, 126-page edition of the law review in 1991.

And apparently, they did a good enough job that a new San Joaquin Agricultural Law Review has been put out by the college every year since, with the 26th edition due to come out later this year.

“The purpose is to explore legal issues. To advance the law,” as well as exploring the implications of laws and how they’re interpreted, Pearson said.

Allison Ryan, is a third-year law student and the editor in chief overseeing that next edition after her article was published in last year’s edition.

“My article concerned joint employment under the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Protection Act,” a long-standing law that doesn’t specifically say that farmers are responsible for paying the wages of workers hired through labor-contracting services if those services fail to pay them, she explained.

I went through and looked at the different [court] decisions — over 30 — to see how they analyzed this as employment,” and the courts interpreted the farmers being joint employers of the contract workers who were responsible for wages not paid by the contracting businesses, even if the farmers already paid for the contracting businesses, Ryan said.

And that responsibility can extend to paying for workers compensation insurance if the labor contractors don’t pay for it.

Besides clarifying how the law is interpreted, Ryan said she also included in her article how farmers can protect themselves for some liability in such cases.

“I spent from June 2015 to the end of April 2016, well over 100 hours’ worth of work” on the law review article, Ryan said.

BreAnne Ruelas’ article in last year’s journal focused on the 10-year legal fight of Marvin Horn, a Kerman raisin farmer who challenged a depression-era law that allowed a federally-backed agricultural board to take nearly half of his crop as part of a program to stabilize commodity pricing.

In 2015, Horn won his case in the U.S. Supreme Court, which declared the actions unconstitutional and that the farmer deserved to be compensated for the raisins taken from him.

Ruela said one of the advantages of putting out an agricultural law journal here in the Valley is that the students often are close to the people involved in these cases, Horn among them, which allows them to add more depth to their articles.

Not that the cases are limited to this area. Pretty much any case or law can be addressed if it’s related in some way to agriculture.

“We do get submissions from articles around the world,” including one that will be published in the upcoming edition of the law review written by the associate dean and director from a law school in India that focuses on organic farming and Indian laws that parallel some U.S. laws, Ryan said.

Still, local issues and example cases do tend to come up a lot, including articles on water rights and immigration. 

And discussions on laws regarding the cultivation of marijuana have been included in past editions of the journal, a timely matter now considering that Californians voted to legalize the drug for recreational use in November 2016. That could open of a slew of potential legal conflicts from farm practices to sales.

And the upcoming edition will have an article looking at who has legal ownership of farmers’ agricultural data and whether pesticides should be required to have bilingual labeling, Ryan said.

The San Joaquin Agricultural Law Review certainly isn’t well known among the many reviews put out by law schools every year across the country, but among businesses and lawyers involved in ag law cases, it is well known and has been cited in at least one California Supreme Court case and some out of state cases.

“In the legal ag community, it’s a big thing,” Ryan said.

In fact, since its first publication in 1992, two other ag law reviews have been started at the Drake University Law School in Iowa and at the University of Kentucky College of Law.

Regardless of how well-known the San Joaquin law review is, both Pearson and Weiland agree that the experience and learning that comes from researching and writing a law review article is invaluable training for a lawyer in training, and being published can be an important addition to a new lawyer’s resume.

But the work of writing an article or putting together a law review has to be done in the students’ spare time, around classes, work and other matters in their lives.

“You have to be able to juggle a lot of things,” said Ruelas, adding that she was glad to have done it.

To view all published article in the San Joaquin Agricultural Law Review, go online to www.sjcl.edu/index.php/volumes.