The Associated Press
A consumer rights group can seek the removal of Henry Duque, a member of the state Public Utilities Commission, for conflict of interest violations stemming from a $10,000 stock purchase, the state attorney general said Friday.
Attorney General Bill Lockyer gave permission to the Santa Monica-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights to sue for Duque’s dismissal.
Under state law, the attorney general must authorize lawsuits against public officials that could lead to their removal.
It was reported in August that Duque bought 700 shares of Nextel stock, about $10,000 worth, in May 1999. Nextel, the nation’s fifth-largest wireless firm, is subject to PUC regulation.
Lockyer’s opinion says allowing the matter to be brought before a court would “serve the public interest.”
“When the highest law enforcement officer in the state says a conflict of interest exists and the official should step down, the official should take heed,” said Jamie Court, a spokesman for the consumer group.
Duque wasn’t available to comment on Lockyer’s action, but his executive assistant, Mary Lou Tousey, said he and his attorneys were reviewing the opinion.
In papers his filed with Lockyer opposing the request, Duque said he didn’t voluntarily purchase the stock, and when it was discovered by a newspaper reporter, he sold it.
“Given this state’s woes on electricity, the lack of confidence people have in utilities to regulate themselves, it’s absolutely essential the watchdogs are independent,” Court said.
Court said he expected a lawsuit to be filed soon, if Duque didn’t resign.