Ed Bedford 4 p.m., Dec. 9
At least one federal crime victim confirms receiving email information from the US Department of Justice regarding United States v. San Diego Gas and Electric defendant David Joseph "Willy" Williamson, where an appeal was decided "favorable to U.S."
US v. SDG&E was one of the first cases in the country on asbestos violations under the National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP). Several lawyers have already had at least one law review article published on the case for other defense attorneys with future NESHAP-violation clients.
SDG&E was found guilty on July 13, 2007, of several counts relating to the improper removal of asbestos at the old Encanto Gas Holder site in Lemon Grove during 2000-01. Residents of Encanto in Southeast San Diego have reported seeing large quantities of storm runoff material leach from the site after rains every year since then (the blog picture of Chollas Creek is illustrative). Williamson's sole guilty verdict was on a charge of violating federal standards for Air Pollution Prevention and Control.
Williamson, an SDG&E employee, was found not guilty of making false statements to federal inspectors regarding the demolition of the gas holder facility, but SDG&E was convicted of the same, providing one reason for an appeal. It was alleged that Williamson had passed himself off as a certified asbestos consultant, but his defense attorney argued that in the federal trial, any lack of state asbestos certification had no bearing on guilt in the matter.
During closing arguments, lead federal prosecutor Melanie Pierson cited SDG&E "corporate arrogance" in producing what the EPA's Western US NESHAP enforcement coordinator earlier testified as the "worst case" of friable asbestos production by mechanical means in a residential setting that he had ever seen in his career as an inspector.
Judge Dana Sabraw granted the defendants' motion in late 2007 for a new trial for all defendants based in part on the potential for members of the jury misunderstanding the various issues surrounding the testing of samples taken from the site. Some samples were found to contain up to 50% or more of friable or potentially friable asbestos fibers.
At an October 2006 meeting of the Lemon Grove City Council, Lemon Grove's City Attorney stated that he had been given the opportunity to review the evidence against SDG&E. Based on his observations of the evidence, the City Council was advised that the "lawsuit" charges against the SDG&E defendants would be dismissed and that the City of Lemon Grove would face no liability for problems at the old gas holder site.
Without further confirmation, the favorable appeal ruling should eventually lead to reinstating Williamson's guilty verdict on the Air Pollution Prevention and Control violation. According to the US Dept. of Justice news release of the original jury results, a guilty verdict carries potential penalties of five years' imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.
Additional details of any appellate ruling against Williamson are currently unavailable; rulings regarding the other defendants' appeals are pending. A California Proposition 65 enforcement action for nearly a decade of neighborhood asbestos exposures without warning has been filed against SDG&E, Sempra Energy, and the current land owner, Carter Reese and Associates.
(This writer is currently a Prop. 65 enforcer)