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Wineries face lawsuits over wine glasses 

Some local wineries have been using wine glasses decorated with paints containing lead or cadmium—without posting the required Prop. 65 warnings to their tasting room customers, a Bay Area law firm alleges.

At least half a dozen local wineries with no posted Prop. 65 notices about the heavy metals have been threatened with lawsuits by a firm representing a private party named Russell Brimer, according to Steve von Dohlen, a SLO County deputy district attorney who specializes in consumer cases.

Tobin James Winery requested a civil prosecution by the SLO County district attorney after receiving notification of a pending lawsuit by Brimer. “It was my belief we’d have more fair treatment with the D.A. than with a predatory plaintiff,� says the winery’s attorney, Jere Sullivan.

“We’re seeing a trend on investigations into lead-based paint on winery glasses,� notes von Dohlen, who says other wineries facing lawsuits by Brimer include Edna Valley, Summerwood, Meridian, Tablas Creek, and Martin and Weyrich.

The D.A.’s office decided to file for civil prosecution of Tobin James for two reasons, he says: “To protect the public and ensure the enforcement of the Prop. 65 statute requiring notification, and to protect local business to make sure they are not being exploited or taken advantage of.�

Wineries and other local businesses charged with violating Prop. 65 posting requirements can choose to settle their cases by agreeing to a settlement worked out in similar cases, von Dohlen explains.

That “opt-in� agreement includes a matrix of penalties, ranging from a minimum of $18,500 up to $95,000, according to Sullivan.

“The disadvantage of the settlement is that it doesn’t necessarily take case-by-case factors into account,� the deputy district attorney notes. “From the alleged violator’s viewpoint, the settlement package may be unreasonably high.�

That’s exactly why Tobin James solicited the D.A. action instead of buying in to the payment structure, Sullivan says. “We hope they will negotiate a fair settlement in a manner that will not unjustly enrich Brimer or his lawyers,� he adds. “Everybody’s getting a piece of the pie in the opt-in agreement, even the glass company and their lawyers.�

For Sullivan, the risk to wine drinkers is slim, “unless you lick the outside of the wine glass for 40 years.�

All the wineries involved posted Prop. 65 warnings as soon as they received notification of a pending lawsuit, and began testing their logo glasses for lead, or discontinued their use. Wine tasters can observe the signs: “Warning: Glassware and/or glass bottles with exterior decoration may contain lead or cadmium known by the State of California to cause cancer or birth defects.�

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