PG&E Could Face Major Consequences if Found to Have Violated Probation

SACRAMENTO -- Pacific Gas and Electric Company said it could have, in theory, violated its probation in a document it submitted to a federal judge Monday.

But the utility company adds that depends on if the Camp Fire was started by it recklessly maintaining power lines.

"It’s sort of like saying, 'Yeah, it was my gun found at the crime scene and, yes, it was my fingerprints on the gun,' but not really answering the question whether PG&E pulled the trigger," said attorney Mike Danko.

Danko’s firm represents around 900 clients who lost their homes to the Camp Fire in and around Paradise and are now suing PG&E.

He explained after the San Bruno gas line explosion in 2010, PG&E was convicted of obstructing justice and violating the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act. The company was then put on a five-year probation in 2017 and as a condition could not break any more laws.

Now, if PG&E is found criminally responsible for either the Camp Fire or the North Bay wildfires of 2017 that could violate the company’s probation.

"When you violate your probation the remedies come swiftly," Danko said.

In November, a federal judge asked PG&E what role the company played in starting both of those wildfires. PG&E submitted its response Monday, the last day before the judge’s deadline.

Danko said it didn’t really answer the question.

"The judge asked a simple question. It was, 'Tell me, PG&E, what your role was, if any, in starting the Camp Fire,'" Danko said. "And their filing went on for hundreds of pages and they never really tell the judge exactly what their role was."

Danko said the document does help his lawsuits since it confirms the company knew about a failing piece of equipment on one of the towers near the ignition site.

"Did that cause the fire? PG&E doesn’t talk about that," Danko said. "But there’s no question there was equipment on the tower at Poe Dam that it knew was deficient, it knew was defective. It had scheduled it for repairs and it didn’t do the repairs."

If the judge decides PG&E did violate its probation, Danko said the consequences could be huge.

"The judge could install someone to take PG&E over or perhaps the judge could even break up PG&E. We’ll have to see," Danko said.

PG&E did release a statement to FOX40 regarding its probation case. It states:

"The families impacted by the devastating Camp Fire are our customers, our neighbors and our friends. Our hearts go out to those who have lost so much, and we remain focused on supporting them through the recovery and rebuilding process. We continue to assess our infrastructure with the goal of further enhancing safety and helping protect all of the customers we serve from the ever-increasing threat of wildfires. PG&E’s most important responsibility is public and employee safety and we are committed to working together with our state and community partners and across all sectors and disciplines to develop comprehensive, long-term safety solutions for the future."

Also, as part of the PG&E probation case, the same federal judge asked California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office what charges the utility company could face if it’s found to have caused any deadly wildfires. Becerra’s office responded implied-malice murder and involuntary manslaughter are options on the table.

The attorney general’s office did not say it would charge the utility company with those crimes.

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