Ruling Expected In DWP Billing Lawsuit Settlement

A ruling is expected Tuesday on a proposed lawsuit settlement over faulty bills sent to thousands of customers by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

But highlighting the discord in the case, attorneys representing ratepayers in different lawsuits against the DWP disagree about whether the settlement is fair.

Also, a consumer watchdog group on Monday released a statement opposing the deal and urged L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Attorney Mike Feuer to “fix the deficiencies in the settlement.”

Four different lawsuits were brought against the DWP over the utility’s faulty billing system, which produced inaccurately estimated bills for some customers. The problems with the system were first reported in 2013.

Under the settlement proposed in August, about $44 million would be paid out. A judge, however, held off on approving that settlement in September.

Cleveland, Ohio-based attorney Jack Landskroner, who heads up one case against the DWP, helped negotiate the settlement with the city and DWP.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle is expected to weigh in Tuesday on that deal. If approved, plaintiffs in all four cases would have to follow the settlement terms.

San Diego-based attorney Tim Blood, who represents clients in a similar case against the DWP, said in an interview Monday he opposes the settlement because the DWP gets to determine the claims’ monetary amount and if the claims are valid.

“I have never seen a settlement where the defendant alone determines how much is paid off,” Blood said.

It’s not unusual in high-profile cases for multiple lawsuits to be brought and for attorneys to seek to control the settlement.

The Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog released a letter to Los Angeles City Hall leaders opposing the settlement, citing the same reasons given by Blood.

“This one-sided and corrupted settlement will represent another sad and disturbing chapter in DWP’s history if you do not intervene immediately,” the letter states.

By contrast, attorney Landskroner released a statement saying he “cannot imagine a better outcome for consumers.”

“This settlement will not only return 100 percent of the overcharges LADWP billed to customers, the entire process of determining the amounts owed each customer will be verified by an independent court-appointed monitor,” Landskroner said.

Attorney Tom Merriman, who works with Landskroner, disputed Blood’s account of the settlement and accused the attorney of using scare tactics.

DWP Chief Administrative Officer David Wright said in a statement the allegations made by Consumer Watchdog are “wrong, both factually and legally.”

“LADWP is confident that with the complete facts and law presented before it, the court’s ruling will be an approval of this resolution, which reimburses 100 percent of all amounts that customers were overcharged and places the interests of ratepayers over lawyers,’ Wright said.

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