A California court issued a tentative ruling last week calling for the removal of Commissioner Henry Duque from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) because of a conflict of interest arising from his ownership of stock in a telecommunications company regulated by the CPUC.
Duque is the sole remaining commissioner on the CPUC appointed by former Gov. Pete Wilson (R), after the abrupt resignation last month of Commissioner Richard Bilas. Gov. Gray Davis (D) appointed the four other current commissioners.
Responding to a suit filed by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR), the San Francisco Superior Court ruled April 2 that Duque should be removed from his office and forced to pay a $5,000 fine for the conflict of interest. Duque has been on the CPUC since 1995, and his present term expires in December.
Duque acquired 700 shares in wireless company Nextel Communications Inc. in May 1999 and held them for 15 months. FTCR claimed Duque earned approximately $69,000 from the shares.
Judge Alfred Chiantelli wrote in the 20-page decision that Duque’s failure to give his stockbroker better guidance on which stocks he could not purchase on Duque’s behalf stemmed not from “bad faith but judgment.”
The ruling becomes final April 12, unless written objections are raised that sway the judge. Duque’s attorney said the commissioner will file an objection, but a staff attorney for FTCR said the judge was not likely to significantly change the ruling.
“He’s had two and a half months to issue a decision,” said FTCR’s Pam Pressley. “I don’t think he’s going to change his mind.”