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Appeals court sides with CPUC, denies intervenor fees

Aguirre thwarted SDG&E plot to nail ratepayers, gets punished

Today (December 16), the Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, denied an appeal by law firm Aguirre & Severson to get intervenor fees from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for the firm's work in thwarting San Diego Gas & Electric's scheme to collect $463 million from ratepayers as a result of the 2007 fires. A division of the CPUC had said SDG&E caused the fire through its negligence, but the utility wanted ratepayers to pick up uninsured costs of the disaster.

The two local lawyers argued aggressively for ratepayers. And, says Aguirre, "we won." SDG&E's scheme was voted down by the commission. But it found numerous reasons for denying any funds whatsoever to Aguirre & Severson, which worked three years on the case. Generally, the CPUC rewards intervenor fees to groups that play footsie with the commission. The appeals court turned down Aguirre & Severson's appeal in fewer than 24 hours, says Aguirre. "California courts are abdicating any supervision of the CPUC," which cares for utility shareholders, not ratepayers, says Aguirre.

The firm intends to appeal the decision to the Ninth Circuit federal appeals court on the grounds that the firm was denied its constitutional right to push the case aggressively on behalf of a client.

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Today (December 16), the Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, denied an appeal by law firm Aguirre & Severson to get intervenor fees from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for the firm's work in thwarting San Diego Gas & Electric's scheme to collect $463 million from ratepayers as a result of the 2007 fires. A division of the CPUC had said SDG&E caused the fire through its negligence, but the utility wanted ratepayers to pick up uninsured costs of the disaster.

The two local lawyers argued aggressively for ratepayers. And, says Aguirre, "we won." SDG&E's scheme was voted down by the commission. But it found numerous reasons for denying any funds whatsoever to Aguirre & Severson, which worked three years on the case. Generally, the CPUC rewards intervenor fees to groups that play footsie with the commission. The appeals court turned down Aguirre & Severson's appeal in fewer than 24 hours, says Aguirre. "California courts are abdicating any supervision of the CPUC," which cares for utility shareholders, not ratepayers, says Aguirre.

The firm intends to appeal the decision to the Ninth Circuit federal appeals court on the grounds that the firm was denied its constitutional right to push the case aggressively on behalf of a client.

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Comments
12

Mike is a royal pain in the a$$ but you gotta love him for standing up for the little guys (ratepayers). The CPUC is as corrupt as it gets and I hope that the 9th Circuit sides with Aguirre.

Dec. 17, 2014

AlexClarke: Yes, Aguirre stood up for ratepayers, and therefore got punished by the CPUC, which is only interested in utility profits. Thus far, courts have shown no interest in doing something about this.

San Diego Gas & Electric's rates are by far the highest in the nation. Southern California Edison's rates are also among the highest. Best, Don Bauder

Dec. 17, 2014

Dan Butler: The CPUC as now constituted is a crooked organization. It wasn't always this way. When Loretta Lynch ran it, the CPUC cared about consumers.

Gray Davis put Mike Peevey in as president to massage the utilities. That is all Peevey has done. As more muck has emerged about the CPUC's pro-utility bias in handling the San Bruno explosion case and the closing of San Onofre, Peevey has said he will end his reign at the end of this year. But will he? And if he doesn't, will he be replaced by another anti-consumer money grubber? Best, Don Bauder

Dec. 17, 2014

Mikey is NOT a royal pain: he is true blue. When he sees injustice, he works to right the wrong. In this case, he fought and won a huge case and is due those intervenor fees. Listen up, Ninth Circuit: this is an honest man who deserves recompense.

Dec. 17, 2014

monaghan: I agree. Mike and his law partner, Mia Severson, put a lot of work into that case and won. They deserve to be paid. But they stood up to the CPUC, which doesn't want any criticism -- just fawning nods from others who get their fat intervenor fees. Best, Don Bauder

Dec. 17, 2014

I should clarified that Mike is a royal pain in the a$$ to those who seek power over the masses. I do hope that the 9th circuit takes note. Also a Federal investigation of the utilities and the CPUC under RICO would be interesting.

Dec. 18, 2014

AlexClarke: Good clarification. Everybody with some influence in this world should be a pain in the buttocks to those who abuse power. Aguirre and Severson have done heroic work exposing the CPUC's corruption, and also saving San Diegans a lot of money.

I would like a federal investigation of the CPUC, but I am not holding my breath. Best, Don Bauder

Dec. 18, 2014

Mike's firm did it for us all; we owe it, and we've already paid the taxes to pay the fees.

However, I'd be willing to chip into a fund to help Mike et al out.

Dec. 17, 2014

Twister: Nobody else has suggested passing the hat. But San Diegans should be grateful. Best, Don Bauder

Dec. 17, 2014

Not only does Michael Aguirre et al deserve to get paid but the CPUC should be spanked for treating those that bring cases before the CPUC unfairly since they "reward" those that play ball with the CPUC and simply choose not to pay those that actually seek justice for ratepayers!

This is an import case the same firm will certainly seek payment for all their work on the San Onofre 3+ Billion Dollar Replacement Steam Generator Project which turned into a Debacle when SCE choose not to have their in-house design checked out by a full NRC review, choosing instead to claim that they were replacing them with identical steam generators, when in fact they made a huge number of modifications that together cause of these Replacement Steam Generators to fail soon after being installed.

Note the bragging in Nuclear Engineering International, which came out the same month San Onofre started leaking:

https://s3.amazonaws.com/s3.documentcloud.org/documents/347889/col-nrc-tech-paper.pdf

Now that Michael Aguirre has appealed the CPUC ruling to the Federal Courts, ratepayers now have a chance to actually get relief from what has become a SCE/CPUC sweetheart deal, for SCE's shareholders.

Great Website filled with accurate info: http://sanonofresafety.org

Dec. 17, 2014

CaptD: Spanking Peevey would be quite an exercise. He has a large posterior. I agree with your observations and will check the website you cite. Best, Don Bauder

Dec. 17, 2014

LORETTA LYNCH WRITES OF CPUC'S PRO-UTILITY BIAS UNDER PEEVEY. In an op-ed in today's (December 19) sfgate.com, Loretta Lynch, the pro-consumer president of the CPUC who was replaced by Mike Peevey, tells how the so-called regulatory body is going back to the Robber Baron days.

Lynch tells how the modern CPUC was created "out of a cozy, corrupt relationship between the regulators and the all-powerful railroads and mega-companies of the 20th century...[California] Gov. Hiram Johnson knew that when regulators become captured by the regulated, and in secret do the bidding of powerful corporations instead of the people, the economy suffers."

She goes on: "By statute, the [CPUC] must ensure that utility rates are just and reasonable." However, "Under Peevey, the commission ignored the law, the press and the public in order to do the utilities' bidding. [CPUC] decisions became divorced from facts or science and were unfettered by public oversight."

She cites some examples: "When Pacific Gas & Electric failed to spend the money it had already received to maintain the gas system, resulting in tragedies like the San Bruno explosion, the [CPUC] allowed the utility to keep the money."

Also, "Despite lavish talk about increasing renewable energy and the start of renewable mandates in 2002, the [CPUC] has authorized more fossil-fueled energy than renewable energy during Peevey's tenure, with prices and terms kept secret. Often these plant approvals are fast-tracked and approved with no demonstrated need."

Lynch says, "It is time we return to what the voters enacted through initiative 100 years ago." Regulators should follow the spirit of the law, require open government, stop the fossil buying binge and "stop the gifts, the partying and the travel with those with financial interests at the [CPUC] including their agents and their foundations."

Three cheers for Loretta Lynch.

Dec. 19, 2014

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