The timing was breathtaking. On August 31, a state court ruled Governor Brown’s emails in a utility scandal could not be made public because the Superior Court had no jurisdiction.
Late that night, as this year’s legislative session closed, Brown reneged on a summer agreement he made with lawmakers to create such court review in a sweeping package of Public Utility Commission reforms.
That’s when AB 2903 and SB 1017 died, with objections from PUC President Michael Picker, a former Brown aide, who reportedly told legislators the Governor didn't want Superior Court review of Public Records Act requests.
The PUC is supposed to be an independent commission that has no power over vetoes, but Picker reportedly acted like the Governor's chief of staff.
By double crossing the public and the legislature, Brown has kept his Administration's emails in the utility scandal—a secret deal to put most of the billions to shutter the San Onofre nuclear power plant onto ratepayers—out of the public light. AB 2903 and SB 1017 would have established that Superior Court review and subjected the case to the new law.
With the wind at his back after the court ruling, Brown rescued himself from the scrutiny of a Superior Court to which he had agreed to submit earlier in the summer. This didn’t sit well with public interest attorney Mike Aguirre, who sued the PUC over the secret deal last year, and was rebuffed when a Public Records Act request was denied by the commission for communications related to San Onofre.
Aguirre had turned to the Superior Court to review his PRA denial and last February a judge ruled that the emails should be reviewed for release. "Withholding records of allegedly ex parte secret deals resulting in a shifting of utility losses to ratepayers cannot possibly be a regulatory function of the PUC," he wrote. Ten days later, an appellate judge who went to law school with Brown issued an order intervening in the case.
Now in a new PRA request to the PUC alleging obstruction of justice, Aguirre is asking for records of communications between officials, including Picker and Brown on PUC reform proposals and judicial review of PRA request denials.
It reads: “We are investigating whether Gov. Jerry Brown (Brown) and CPUC President Michael Picker (Picker) are obstructing justice in connection with the investigation of the illegal scheme to make utility customers pay over $3.3 billion for the failed San Onofre nuclear power plant…We understand that Picker threatened California legislators with a Gubernatorial veto of CPUC reform legislation unless Superior Court review of Public Records Cases was removed from the legislative proposals.”
Aguirre's PRA request points out that Attorney General Kamala Harris, while receiving Brown’s endorsement of her US Senate bid, is heading up Brown’s defense team opposing release of Brown’s secret San Onofre files. That leaves only the federal government as a recourse.
“Because this case involves deprivation of utility customers’ Constitutional rights and because alleged obstruction of justice is by the Governor, President of the CPUC and the Attorney General, the public has no California state agency to which to turn to vindicate its rights," the PRA states. "Therefore be advised that failure to provide the requested documents in a timely fashion will be met with an enforcement action in federal court.”
Consumer Watchdog’s report, Brown’s Dirty Hands, pointed out the close relationship between Brown, his regulators and the three major investor-owned utilities, tracing donations totaling nearly $6 million from those utilities to the Governor and the Democratic Party in close proximity to actions taken on their behalf.
Emails so far revealed under the PRA showed Brown and his aides intervened in the picking of PUC Commissioners desired by the utilities, decisions made by the PUC to build unnecessary plants, and protecting assets like Sempra’s Aliso Canyon.
Given such evidence, the public deserves to know what Governor Brown knew about SCE’s San Onofre scandal and when. It may take a federal court to make that happen.