CITIZENS' OVERSIGHT FILES MOTION TO HAVE SAN ONOFRE CPUC JUDGE DARLING REMOVED

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Darling named in felony search warrants, initiated phone calls with SCE executives, now defends new CPUC President Picker from oversight committee requests

By Miriam Raftery

July 16, 2015 (San Diego) – Citizens' Oversight filed legal documents on July 14th with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), making the case for reassignment of Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Melanie Darling from the sanctions phase of proceedings on the San Onofre Nuclear plant.  The July 14 motion would remove Darling from hearing the investigation into sanctions for violations of ex parte rules during the San Onofre proceeding--an action which could have substantial impacts for ratepayers statewide..

Darling is named in felony search warrants issued June 5th and initiated at least one questionable communication with Southern California Edison (SCE) executive Russell Worden (shown in the July 2 Exhibit B documents). These, among other reasons, provide ample cause for reassignment, Citizens Oversight argues.

The July 14 Motion asserts that the proper course of action is to assign an independent adjudicator to the case as it will be impossible to locate an independent and impartial ALJ within the CPUC.

It also means that ALJ Darling would no longer be able to defend CPUC President Picker from inquiries by the California Assembly Utilities & Commerce Committee, chaired by Asm. Anthony Rendon.

“The CPUC has no ethical standards for their judges,” said Ray Lutz, author of the motion and founder of Citizens Oversight. “I mean that literally. Other state agencies comply with the California Administrative Procedures Act, which adopts most of the standards of the Judicial Code of Ethics. But the CPUC does not, and thus they have no written ethical standards for their judges. As a result, they do whatever they want, no matter how ridiculous.”

He adds pointedly, “You can't be a judge and a party at the same time. At the CPUC, they don't see it that way.”

Lutz spoke with ECM regarding the potential impacts of Darling’s removal, if ordered, on the San Onofre settlement and the CPUC itself.

-“We’re hoping that it will completely blow apart the  settlement.  If they grant the motion to get an independent adjudicator assigned, then that person will allow in theory any discovery of everything that went on in the run-up to the settlement and right now they’re trying to keep it all covered upm” Lutz said.

He added, “If that is revealed it may not only blow up the settlement, it could cause the CPUC to unravel.”

He indicated that Darling has shown blatant favoritism in hearings, allowing utilities to “almost take over a meeting.…This woman violated every kind of propriety of what a judge should do.” Lutz contends Darling acted as a “tool” for utilities and that “it’s already predetermined what the outcome will be” at proceedings at which she presides.

Now he believes the CPUC either has to reassign Darling or “they are part of the cover- up.”

Lutz also lays blame on Picker, the new CPUC Chair, who was in Brown’s administration assigned to San Onofre proceedings prior to being named new head of the state regulatory agency and has failed to take action to halt conflicts of interest such as Darling’s despite replacing an outcoming CPUC chair accused of illegally colluding with utilities including PG&E to shield that utility from liability for the San Bruno pipeline explosion.

Asked how removal of Darling could impact SDG&E ratepayers and ratepayers statewide, Lutz concludes, “I’m hoping we can eventually eliminate these big private utilities and the CPUC and go back to municipally owned utilities.”  He pointed out that municipal utility districts such as Sacramento, Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power, Anaheim, and Imperial County “all of these districts have prices of maybe half what the for-profit utilities charge.” 

Documents filed  in this case can be found at: http://www.copswiki.org/Common/M1610 which include:

  • the “July 2 Motion” for reassignment,
    • July 2 Motion Exhibit B emails between ALJ Darling and SCE Executive Russell Worden after the Dec 4, 2012 phone call from Darling to Worden.
  • the denial of the July 2 Motion by CPUC Chief ALJ Clopton
  • the “July 14 Motion” for reconsideration of the motion for reassignment
    • Superior Court felony search warrants naming ALJ Darling, among others, to provide all documents related to San Onofre starting on January 31, 2012.

Darling has been an Administrative Law Judge with the California Public Utilities Commission since August 2008. According to the CPUC website, her background includes staff work in the California Legislature, regulatory compliance in the private financial sector, and both law firm and solo practice focused in bankruptcy and commercial law. Prior to joining the Commission, Judge Darling served eight years as Senior Tax Counsel with the Board of Equalization, primarily serving as an advisor to Board Members. In that capacity she analyzed a wide range of tax and fee appeals, proposed rules, legislation, and property tax valuations of state assessed public utilities including energy, telecommunications, and railroad companies.

She graduated from CSU Fullerton in Political Science and received her law degree cum laude from University of San Francisco School of Law. She has participated in NASD arbitrations, coursework at the National Judicial College, and taken mediation courses at USF School of Law and U.C. Hastings School of Law.