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.