It was a day for the lawyers Friday as attorneys in the legal quest of Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen to undo LEAC-based electric rate increases sparred and jockeyed for position.
Hansen’s attorney, George H. Hodge Jr., and attorneys for the Water and Power Authority and the Public Services Commission – Samuel H. Hall Jr., Boyd Sprehn and Tanisha Bailey-Roka – argued about, in essence, what they will argue about when Superior Court Judge Harold Willocks reconvenes the hearing at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 8.
"We were setting the groundwork for the hearing," said Bailey-Roka, general counsel for the PSC.
The complaint originated as a petition filed by Hansen before the PSC, seeking a stay and reconsideration of an increase in the Levelized Energy Adjustment Clause rates. The PSC denied that request on July 15.
Hansen then sought a restraining order, but Willocks indicated such a move had little chance of success. Instead, he suggested, the plaintiffs were skipping a step, and should first appeal the PSC’s ruling.
That appeal was filed and was the center of Friday’s hearing, in which Willocks struggled to get both sides to agree on what the issues will be when they reconvene to argue it out. The judge said he was trying to get the lawyers to "reach common ground on what the issues are."
Both sides took a few hits and won a few points in the two-hour proceedings.
Willocks rejected Hodge’s attempt to raise the argument that the PSC denial of the petition was "unreasonable" because the issue had not been raised in the original hearing. An appeal can only deal with matters raised in the original action, not cover new evidence or arguments, he said. Since Hodge had not raised the reasonableness issue originally, he could not now.
Hodge tried to dance around the point, arguing that "reasonableness" was at the heart of his argument, whether he had used the term or not. He might not have explicitly used the word, he said, but it was inherent in his case. Making an analogy, he said that if something has two legs and two wings and is served at KFC, everyone knows what it is, "I don’t have to say it’s a chicken."
"Oh yes you do!" the judge countered, smiling. "You have to say it’s a chicken."
Willocks also rejected the plaintiff’s claim that the PSC was at fault for failing to provide findings of fact and conclusions of law in rejecting the petition, saying simply that the commission had the authority to make the decision it made.
The defense lost its claim that Hansen lacked legal standing to raise the petition because she is an ex-officio member of the board. Willocks also chided the defense attorneys because they had not provided a certified copy of the minutes of commission’s proceedings.
Visibly irked, he complained that he had spent 22 hours reviewing the documents only to realize that there was no certification.
"I have a completely incomplete record," he said.
Sprehn apologized, saying that the recorder typically files her minutes electronically so the certification page does not get signed. He vowed to get the judge a new, certified copy, and said there would be no difference between the two. Willocks referenced the oversight later when he told the lawyers he would be "re- re- re- re- reviewing" the case file.
Willocks said by Dec. 2 he would send the attorneys his ruling on what issues will be heard at the Dec. 8 hearing.