Victory for Jimmy Palmer was as sweet as apple cider yesterday when an Arlington judge ruled that the 70-year-old produce stand operator can once again allow commuters to park on his lot when they take the Metro from East Falls Church.

"The people they hurt have now won," a beaming Palmer said outside the courtroom, as some of his loyal customers stood by his side.

After the hearing, Palmer said he plans to open his lot to commuters today.

Arlington County had taken Palmer to court, arguing that he was running an illegal parking lot at his Washington Boulevard produce stand where he charged commuters $2 a day to leave their cars. But Palmer had countered that these were also his customers, who often purchased produce and even Christmas trees from his business. Letting customers park was legal, he had maintained.

Palmer won his case yesterday even before his hearing started. Before the proceedings, his lawyer, John C. Youngs, successfully argued that there should not be a trial because Palmer had been prosecuted for the same offense five years ago. At that time, Palmer was acquitted of operating a commercial business, his produce stand, in a residential area. It was therefore all right, Youngs said, for him to allow commuters to park in his lot, whether they buy apples or not.

Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Abigail J. Raphael argued that the current offense, operating a public parking lot in a residential area, was different from the earlier charge and violated the county's zoning regulations.

"What would happen if everybody bought an apple there and then rode the Metro?" Circuit Judge Benjamin Kendrick asked Raphael. "An apple a day keeps the county away?"

As the debate continued about whether commuters should be allowed to park, apple or no apple, when they can't find parking in the crowded Metro commuter lot, Kendrick suddenly looked up and inquired, "Who is complaining about this?"

The prosecutor told the judge that neighbors were upset that commuters, most of whom don't live in Arlington, were parking there.

Youngs produced a petition with 600 names on it from Palmer's supporters, many of them his neighbors.

When the stand got started in 1962, long before Metro sliced through the county, the Palmer family sold the excess produce from a side-yard garden from a card table they set up on the street. Later, Palmer began selling vegetables grown on his West Virginia farm.

Looking at the 1994 court records before him, Kendrick concluded that Palmer "clearly was acquitted" and agreed that to try him again would be double jeopardy.

"I am elated and thrilled," said Virginia Clayborne, 54, a nurse who used to park at Palmer's stand before the county banished cars from it last spring.

"I feel a citizen of this county, and 70 years old, ought to be able to use his land for the good of the county without the interference of big government. I don't think the evil empire should rule," she said.

A county spokesman, Dick Bridges, declined to comment on the judge's ruling.

"Until we see the exact terms of the judge's decision, it would be premature to speculate on any future action," said Bridges.