Utility regulators used private lawyers to challenge probe
SAN DIEGO (AP) — California Public Utilities Commission lawyers sought to suppress court-approved search warrants after utility regulators promised they would cooperate with a state criminal investigation, according to a newspaper report.
The San Diego Union-Tribune cited court documents unsealed Monday that show commission lawyers opposed providing records to investigators as required by three different search warrants approved in 2015 and 2016.
The warrants were issued after judges found probable cause that ratepayers were illegally hit with billions of dollars in costs related to the San Onofre nuclear plant failure six years ago.
Commission lawyers argued that prosecutors failed to properly serve the warrants — even though they agreed to the process in advance.
“Here, the CPUC has engaged in inequitable conduct, by insisting upon a method of execution of a search warrant and now claiming that execution was improper,” Judge William C. Ryan wrote in a ruling last year that was unsealed this week. “The Attorney General relied upon CPUC’s promise that it would comply with the warrant if served in the manner agreed upon.”
In a statement to the newspaper, the CPUC said it “has cooperated with the Attorney General’s office through every step of the investigation.”
The utility regulators said it “spent a substantial amount of time complying with the search warrants and trying to get clarification” regarding questions they had.
“After the issues were resolved, the CPUC continued to timely comply with the remaining document demands,” the statement said.
The commission’s legal positions contesting aspects of the search warrants were revealed after regulators told state lawmakers in March 2016 they needed $6 million for private-sector lawyers to comply with the probe.
Lawmakers approved the supplemental funding, which raised the amount the commission spent responding to investigators to more than $12 million. Money for the reimbursement fund is collected from utility ratepayers.
Days later the commission was actively opposing the search warrants, although the court filings were sealed so the legal maneuvering was not known outside the Attorney General’s Office.
The Attorney General’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the newly unsealed documents.
The court unsealed more than 1,000 pages of records, most of which have yet to be reviewed publicly.
Information from: The San Diego Union-Tribune, http://www.utsandiego.com