Henry Duque, the sole Republican on the five-member California Public Utilities Commission, said he would appeal a San Francisco Superior Court ruling that found him in violation of the state’s conflict-of-interest laws and ordered him to leave the PUC.
In a filing with the court Friday, Duque ask the court to stay its order until the California appeals court can rule on the decision. In a preliminary ruling handed down earlier this month, Superior Court Judge Alfred Chiantelli found that Duque should be removed from office because he owned shares of Nextel, a telecommunications company regulated by the PUC. The suit against Duque was brought by The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a consumer group.
Chiantelli must make his decision final before Duque would officially be ordered to leave his post.
Duque’s departure would almost certainly change the balance of power on the commission. Most recently, his was the deciding vote on a commission decision to leave at Sept. 20, 2001, the suspension date for direct access, a decision that angered PUC President Loretta Lynch and Commissioner Carl Wood, who had wanted to make the suspension effective July 1, 2001, to ensure more direct access customers would pay for state Dept. of Water Resources’ power buying.
Duque’s lawyer Joseph Remcho told the court that the stay should be granted because ”enforcing the judgment pending appeal will impose the harshest judgment a public official can suffer, and will impose it before any appellate court has had the opportunity to interpret a statute that is not only vague, but has never before been interpreted or enforced by the courts in more than a century in which it has been existence.” He claimed that Duque ”honestly believed he was doing no wrong.”
Remcho also said Duque’s removal would harm the PUC, a statement supported by fellow PUC Commissioners Geoffrey Brown and Mike Peevey. ”I can emphatically say that if Commissioner Duque is removed from office pending appeal, the work of the PUC will be greatly disrupted,” Brown said in a statement submitted to the court. ”In the coming months, the commission will have to decide many matters that could easily end in a two-two vote absent Commissioner Duque. Therefore, I believe that removing Commissioner Duque while the appeal is pending would immobilize the PUC.”