Move to oust PUC member gets OK

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Sacramento Bee

Attorney General Bill Lockyer’s office Friday gave the go-ahead for a consumer watchdog group to seek the removal of a member of the state Public Utilities Commission who bought stock of a company the PUC regulates.

In issuing the opinion, Lockyer said the case “presents a substantial issue of law that warrants judicial resolution.”

Under law, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights needed the opinion from the attorney general’s office to proceed in any legal action to have Commissioner Henry Duque removed from office.

Duque, who was appointed to the PUC in 1995 by former Gov. Pete Wilson, purchased 700 shares of stock in Nextel Communications Inc., a wireless communications company, in 1999. He sold it over a six-month period last year, according to the attorney’s general’s opinion.

The opinion said the law expressly prohibits a member of the PUC from acquiring a financial interest in a company the PUC regulates, and if a member does so, he automatically forfeits the office.

Pamela Pressley, an attorney for the foundation, said Friday that if Duque does not resign, the group will file a lawsuit to have him removed.

“We hope that he will take this decision to heart and step down,” she said.

Tom Willis, a lawyer representing Duque, said his client did nothing wrong – Duque did not know the Nextel company was regulated by the PUC, and disposed of the stock as soon as he was told it was.

“He acted reasonably,” Willis said. “He sold the stock the minute he thought there was any potential conflict at all.”

Consumer Watchdog
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