A Los Angeles judge has ruled that Westlake Village, Calif.-based Dole Fresh Fruit Co. must pay $200,000 in attorney’s fees and costs stemming from a defamation suit the company filed — and then dropped — against filmmakers.

Defamation suit costs Dole in banana case

It is the latest twist in a saga that began when Nicaraguan banana workers filed suits against Dole claiming pesticides used in the 1970s had made them sterile. The last of the suits was dismissed in July when Judge Victoria Chaney found that plaintiffs and their representatives engaged in “blatant fraud, witness tampering and active manipulation.”

During the litigation, Swedish filmmakers, Fredrik Gertten, Margarete Jangard and WG Film AB, began filming “Bananas!,” a documentary that claimed Dole had exposed Central American workers to harmful chemicals. Even after the court found allegations in earlier trials had been based on fraudulent information, the filmmakers allowed “Bananas!” to be shown at the 2009 Los Angeles Film Festival. Dole filed the defamation suit.

In the latest ruling, Judge Ralph Dau ordered Dole to pay the defendants’ legal fees based, he ruled, on California’s anti-strategic lawsuit against public participation law.

“Essentially, the Court ruled that no reasonable viewer of the film would have believed its allegations to be true and thus the film was not defamatory,” according to a statement released by Dole.

The ruling does not endorse the claims made in the film — in fact, Justice Chaney has since dismissed the lawsuit that is the subject of the film because of “blatant fraud on the court and witness tampering.”