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Robert Fellmeth, professor of public interest law at the University of San Diego, and local ethics expert, has joined the board of deeply troubled Utility Consumers' Action Network (UCAN), according to Kim Malcolm, UCAN executive director. Fellmeth's appointment is a bit of a puzzle. For decades, Fellmeth has been very close to Michael Shames, co-founder of UCAN. Shames left UCAN in June after his ethics came into question. The Reader revealed more than a year ago that Shames was skimming 10% off intervenor fees from the California Public Utilities Commission; was charging attorney-size sums for his hours worked while he was not a member of the bar, and also that $1 million for a China-bashing movie was routed by steel producer Nucor through UCAN in a deal that smacked of tax avoidance or money laundering. Whistleblowers within UCAN complained about a number of things, such as checks with a misspelling ("Comsumers") piling up in a financial institution. The U.S. Attorney is investigating these alleged irregularities and others. UCAN filed for dissolution earlier this year, but that hasn't happened; it led to Malcolm being brought in.

Last month, the Joint Legislative Audit Committee authorized the first audit of the CPUC's intervenor process. UCAN has been the second largest recipient of intervenor fees, which are given to citizens who contribute to a CPUC decision. Malcolm has consistently complained that UCAN is very short of funds. Whistleblowers blame activities by Shames. Some outsiders wonder if Fellmeth's appointment suggests Shames is coming back to the organization. Malcolm says he isn't. In any case, Fellmeth, the ethics guru, will have to sort some things out, and to do so objectively will have to disregard his longtime ties to Shames.

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Comments

Visduh Sept. 4, 2012 @ 4:09 p.m.

Any appointments to positions at UCAN need to be totally "shameless." Is this one "shameful?" Only time will tell. We all would like to see through the operation, as in be able to observe the operation in a transparent manner.

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Don Bauder Sept. 4, 2012 @ 5:08 p.m.

Good question. Another major question is whether UCAN will be able to survive the state's audit. Best, Don Bauder

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Jill Ballard Sept. 17, 2012 @ 4:19 p.m.

I applied for the position of “Water Advocacy Manager” with the Utility Consumers’ Action Network (UCAN) in March 2010. Michael Shames, then Executive Director of UCAN, said that in reviewing my resume he “didn’t see much in the way of involvement with non-profits,” which was weird because my resume indicated that I had law-clerked at a non-profit law firm. Now that I discover that he billed up the wazoo, not being a member of the bar, and he didn't think my qualifications were up to snuff even though I was a member of the bar, well, that really burns.

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