Tag Archives: becerra

CPUC won’t release evidence given to state, federal criminal investigators

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No perp walk for Peevey. Yet.

The California Public Utilities Commission wants to hold onto documents it delivered to state and federal investigators looking into possible illegal backroom dealings between former commission president Michael Peevey, a former Pacific Gas and Electric company lobbyist and, potentially, others. That’s the gist of a draft decision released yesterday that would, if approved by the commission next month, reject a public records disclosure request from a San Diego trial lawyer.

On the one hand, the draft is a straightforward explanation of grand jury secrecy. On the other, it details how the CPUC delivered two disks full of evidence to a state criminal grand jury and also cooperated with a federal criminal investigation. The draft confirms what’s already been widely reported: federal and state prosecutors launched criminal investigations into how Peevey handled the CPUC’s response to a fatal PG&E gas line explosion in San Bruno…

The Commission received grand jury subpoenas from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Francisco, which had a joint task force with the [California] Attorney General. The federal and state grand jury subpoenas overlapped on subject matter. The U.S. Attorney’s Office specifically admonished that disclosure of any of its issued subpoenas or the Commission’s response could impede or obstruct its investigation. It directed the Commission not to disclose the subpoenas or its response to any third party, including [California public records act] requests, for the indefinite future. Since the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Attorney General’s investigations overlapped, the task force included state prosecutors, and the documents sought in the state grand jury subpoenas are similar to those covered by the federal grand jury subpoenas, the Commission cannot disclose the subpoenas or its responses. Doing so could impinge on the integrity of the criminal investigations.

The draft confirms that a major focus of the criminal investigations is “how and to whom various cases were assigned to administrative law judges”.

Peevey ended his 12 year stint as CPUC president in 2015. So far, neither investigation – California or federal – has resulted in any criminal charges.

New York, California, 19 other states stake out legal grounds for net neutrality appeal

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California’s attorney general (AG), Xavier Becerra, joined a speculative lawsuit launched by his New York counterpart aimed at overturning the Federal Communication Commission’s decision to end broadband’s status as a common carrier service and eliminate network neutrality rules. Becerra’s press release might lead you to believe it was his idea, but it was New York AG Eric Schneiderman who led the effort and then convinced AGs from 20 other states, including California, to sign on.

It’s speculative because, as the filing acknowledges, it’s premature. The final-final version of the FCC’s decision hasn’t been published in the Federal Register yet. That’s when the starting gun goes off in the race to the courthouse.

Schneiderman’s petition is just a placeholder, simply claiming that the FCC decision violates federal law. His press release better explains the case against it…

Under the Administrative Procedure Act, the FCC cannot make “arbitrary and capricious” changes to existing policies, such as net neutrality. The FCC’s new rule fails to justify the Commission’s departure from its long-standing policy and practice of defending net neutrality, while misinterpreting and disregarding critical record evidence on industry practices and harm to consumers and businesses…Moreover, the rule wrongly reclassifies broadband internet as a Title I information service, rather than a Title II telecommunications service, based on an erroneous and unreasonable interpretation of the Telecommunications Act. Finally, the rule improperly and unlawfully includes sweeping preemption of state and local laws.

It’s the “arbitrary and capricious” bit that has the best chance of getting traction in a federal appeals court. Judges tend to defer to the FCC’s subject matter expert status on technical issues and have supported wide preemption of state and local discretion. But when the FCC makes those kinds of decisions, it has to exercise due diligence. In coming to the net neutrality decision it arguably didn’t. Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel certainly argues that, and she was there for much of it.

California’s new broadband cop talks tough but takes cash from telecoms lobbyists

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The end of network neutrality and other common carrier rules throws broadband companies back under general consumer protection laws. Those are enforced, as Federal Communications Commission chair Ajit Pai put it, by “our nation’s premier consumer protection cop”, the Federal Trade Commission, and by state attorneys general.

In California, that’s Xavier Becerra, appointed by governor Jerry Brown when Kamala Harris moved to the U.S. senate. He has sole responsibility for anti-trust law enforcement and shares consumer protection duties with county prosecutors.

Becerra raised “alarm bells” before the net neutrality decision and “decried” it afterwards , but has yet to say whether he’s going to pick up the regulatory ball that the FCC dropped. In an email, his press office said “we are reviewing the FCC’s order repealing the Net Neutrality rules and evaluating our legal options”, but didn’t respond to a follow up question about timing.

He’s gained a lot of attention by filing lawsuit after lawsuit against the Trump administration, which is a cheap and easy thing for a democrat to do, but Becerra’s appetite for taking on entrenched interests in California is much harder to discern. On the other hand, he’s hungry for cash from companies he’s supposed to be policing. Companies that were very generous to federal politicians while the action was in Washington, D.C.

According to FollowTheMoney.org, Becerra has already collected payments from AT&T ($1,500), Comcast ($7,500, both directly and funnelled through corporate lobbyists) and Charter ($1,500) for his 2018 election bid.

That’s just the start, since he’s only raised about $2 million for his campaign, which is less than a tenth of what it can cost to win a statewide race in California. So he has a financial incentive to make deep pocketed donors happy. How Becerra balances the responsibilities of his job against the cost of keeping it will determine, as his press office puts it, whether Californians will “continue to have free, open, and equal access to the Internet”.