November 30, 2016
The judge who until a few weeks ago was in charge of the long-running San Onofre case before the California Public Utilities Commission has taken a job with a contractor to plant owner Southern California Edison.
As an administrative law judge for the commission, Maribeth Bushey oversaw the CPUC effort to divide $4.7 billion in costs for the 2012 failure of the San Onofre nuclear plant north of Oceanside.
She now heads up legal and government relations efforts at Advanced Microgrid Solutions, an energy-storage start-up headquartered, like the CPUC, in San Francisco. The firm was founded by Susan Kennedy, a former utilities commissioner and gubernatorial chief of staff. Bushey also serves as the company’s ethics officer.
Bushey stepped away from the utilities commission in October, nine months after being named to oversee matters regarding San Onofre. She was paid $123,000 a year, public records show.
Government-relations jobs typically entail frequent meetings and discussions with public agencies. But under state law, Bushey is banned from communicating with commission officials as a representative of her new employer for at least one year.
An executive at Advanced Microgrid Solutions said that Bushey is an experienced utility lawyer who did not administer any cases involving the company while at the commission. Her new job does not call for lobbying or contact with the commission over the next year, the firm said.
“Both Maribeth and AMS are aware of these limitations and are in full compliance,” vice-president Manal Yamout wrote in an email. “Prior to leaving the CPUC, the commission’s legal division reviewed Maribeth’s assigned proceedings for compliance with the Political Reform Act and found no conflicts or disqualifying interests related to AMS.”
A spokesman for the state agency that enforces political conflicts of interest said former public officials may accept private-sector work within their areas of expertise with some conditions.
“The more general it is, the more they’re not dealing with the specific contract or issue, or obviously even the previous agency, then it’s more likely there isn’t an issue,” said Jay Wierenga of the Fair Political Practices Commission, speaking generally and not about Bushey specifically.
Asked about the hire, Edison spokeswoman Maureen Brown said, “SCE does not have any information about why ALJ Bushey left the commission or how she came to work at Advanced Microgrid Solutions.”
The role of administrative law judges for the commission has come under scrutiny along with other agency dealings with utility executives. For instance, emails released in September 2014 showed that Pacific Gas & Electric executives had their pick of commission judges for a rate-setting case.
Utility critics said Bushey’s career move is part of the same picture.
“This is taking judge-shopping to a new level,” said San Diego attorney Michael Aguirre, who is suing the commission over its 2014 decision to charge utility customers 70 percent of the premature closure costs for San Onofre.
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