A legal flap over Gov. Jerry Brown’s communications with the Public Utilities Commission is escalating – and now involves one of Brown’s oldest friends.
On Monday, state appellate court Justice J. Anthony Kline blocked a lower court’s order that the 65 emails should be released.
Mike Aguirre, a San Diego attorney challenging the PUC’s controversial settlement of the 2013 San Onofre nuclear power plant closure, complained that Kline acted before giving him a chance to respond and shouldn’t have taken the case, given his friendship with Brown.
The deal places 70 percent of the $4.7 billion closure cost on utility ratepayers. Aguirre seeks to overturn the decision and wants to know whether Brown, who appoints PUC members, was personally involved.
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Kline was a Yale Law School classmate of Brown’s in the 1960s, and the two were roommates when both were law clerks. Kline was Brown’s legal affairs secretary in the 1970s, and Brown later named him to the appellate court.
“A close personal friend of Jerry Brown gave protection to the governor without even giving us a hearing,” Aguirre said.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith ruled this month that the emails should be released, rejecting the PUC’s argument that its decisions could be challenged only in the appellate courts.
Goldsmith declared that “withholding recordings involving allegedly secret ex parte deals between CPUC officials and utility companies in violation of the Public Records Act is not a regulatory function of the CPUC.”
The San Onofre settlement was worked out in private by company officials and PUC members, particularly former president Michael Peevey and most famously during a meeting in a Warsaw, Poland, hotel.
Last Friday, PUC lawyers filed an appeal of Goldsmith’s order, reiterating the commission’s position that Goldsmith lacked jurisdiction.
On Monday, Kline, the presiding justice of the 1st District Court of Appeal, granted a stay of Goldsmith’s order, but Aguirre alleges that Kline acted before he and other attorneys had been told of the appeal and is now demanding that Kline recuse himself.
“A reasonable doubt as to the judge’s ability to be impartial is acutely present here in light of the fact that the judge issued a stay and agreed to hear the case without allowing the real party in interest to oppose the stay,” Aguirre’s recusal demand says.
The San Onofre settlement, coupled with some other events, eventually forced Peevey to step down. The PUC later fined Southern California Edison, San Onofre’s majority owner, $17 million for taking part in the private negotiations.
The case spawned several bills aimed at preventing cases from being settled privately. Brown, however, vetoed the measures.
Brown’s spokesman declined to comment Tuesday on the case’s new wrinkle, other than to note that the PUC insists the emails at issue had nothing to do with San Onofre.
However, it whets one’s curiosity about what the emails do contain.