Published on

Electric Utility Week (formerly Electrical Week)

California Public Utilities Commissioner Henry Duque may be out of a job within a month unless he can successfully appeal an April 30 San Francisco Superior Court decision that removed him from his post over a violation of state conflict of interest laws.

Judge Alfred Chiantelli gave Duque’s lawyers a 30-day temporary stay on his ruling to allow an appeal. The stay would end June 7, effectively enabling Duque to attend only the May 16 and June 6 PUC meetings.

Chiantelli’s final ruling closely followed his April 2 tentative ruling, which determined that Duque was not dishonest but exhibited ”bad judgment” by once owning shares in PUC-regulated telecommunications company Nextel.

”Even though Duque had an honest belief in the existence of circumstances that if true would make his financial acquisition of Nextel stock innocent, his naked belief was not enough to justify his failure to learn and to act,” he said in the final ruling. Besides being removed from office, Duque was told to pay $ 5,000 to the state treasury.

The lawsuit was filed by The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights when the consumer group learned that Duque had owned shares of Nextel. Pamela Pressley, FTCR lawyer, expected that Duque would resign from his post rather than seek the lengthy appeal given the fact that his term ends in December.

Duque’s appeal will not be affected by the legal expense since the PUC has voted to cover them. The fee total, according to the PUC, was around $160,000 as of May 6. In a May 7 letter to the PUC, Pressley requested that the PUC stop its payments of Duque’s legal fees since ”they fall outside the scope of his public duties.” FTCR may also seek repayment of the legal fees paid so far on this ”wrongful expenditure,” she wrote. The PUC had no comment as to whether it would pay for Duque’s appeal, which his lawyers plan.

Along with filing an appeal, Thomas Willis, one of Duque’s lawyer, said that they would file a request for an indefinite extension of Chiantelli’s temporary stay to the appellate court. Chiantelli in his final ruling had already denied a request for an indefinite stay pending the appellate court decision. Willis said that, without the extension, Duque would be removed from office until the appellate court ruled.

Duque’s departure will likely have a myriad of impacts on the ongoing work at the PUC. As the only Republican on the PUC, he has been critical in breaking voting deadlocks among the four Democrat commissioners. If Duque were forced to leave, the PUC would have the tough task of facing their differences to get critical orders passed, including an order determining how utilities will procure power into the future.

Besides immediately changing the PUC‘s voting dynamic, Duque’s departure may also change the future face of the PUC by enabling Gov. Gray Davis to name a new commissioner that would quiet down PUC President Loretta Lynch and the much-criticized PUC during his re-election campaign this year. Lynch and Davis have publicly butted heads over such issues as long-term contract renegotiations and repayment of state Dept. of Water Resources spending on wholesale power.

Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdog
Providing an effective voice for American consumers in an era when special interests dominate public discourse, government and politics. Non-partisan.

Latest Videos

Latest Releases

In The News

Latest Report

Support Consumer Watchdog

Subscribe to our newsletter

To be updated with all the latest news, press releases and special reports.

More Releases