California utility regulators fined Pacific Gas & Electric Co. $1 million for judge shopping among the regulator’s own judges in an effort to find a utility-friendly administrative law judge to hear its rate case.
The five-member state Public Utilities Commission issued the fine Thursday in a 3-0 vote, based on emails that exposed a PG&E executive and state PUC officials discussed which judge to appoint to the utility’s request for gas rate increases.
The PG&E executive opposes one judge who has a history of being hard on the utilty.
The company said in a prepared statement that the emails were “inappropriate” and violated CPUC rules against private contact with regulators.
PUC President Michael Peevey, who received a copy of at least one of the emails and whose administrative aid received some of the emails, did not vote on the sanction. He has also said he would not seek reappointment when his term ends this year.
Commissioner Mike Florio, who was also involved in the email exchange over assignment of a judge, also recused himself from the vote.
The emails came to light after a public records request by the city of San Bruno, where Mayor Jim Ruane has been battling the CPUC and PG&E for release of thousands of other emails.
San Bruno suffered a devastating gas explosion in September 2010 when a PG&E pipeline exploded killing eight people and destroying 38 homes. It raised issues of pipeline safety and PG&E’s maintenance history.
The emails released to San Bruno showed a cozy relationship between the company and certain CPUC officials.