U.S. Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds will not seek further evidentiary proceedings against PG&E to find out if it violated its criminal probation, and will not seek options for sentencing if PG&E is found guilty.
Hinds filed a report on January 6 recommending that an evidentiary hearing that U.S. District Judge William H. Alsup set for January 10 be vacated. PG&E’s five year probation is set to expire on January 26. A five year probation is the maximum statutory limit.
Alsup, after expressing that he wasn’t satisfied with the progress made in the last five years, had invited a briefing on if PG&E could remain under federal monitoring. According to Hinds’ report, an extension to the probation is only allowed “if less than the maximum authorized term was previously imposed.”
Hinds’ report noted the lack of binding case law on if a court can extend probation for a company past its maximum limit or impose new probation terms which can’t be served concurrently with previous terms.
“What’s filed was a response to the judge’s invitation to file a motion to extend PG&E’s probation beyond what appeared to be the statutory limit. Second, there was a separate question about whether or not there was going to be some sort of evidentiary hearing… they were both things that the judge requested that we comment on,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Abraham A. Simmons.
PG&E was sentenced to the maximum probation five years and the maximum fine after it was convicted of six federal felonies in 2017 for its role in the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion. The utility pleaded guilty to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in June 2020 for its role in 2018’s Camp Fire, the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history which destroyed the town of Paradise.
CAL FIRE recently released a report stating that the Dixie fire was started when a tree fell onto a PG&E power line. This report may be used as evidence in criminal or civil proceedings.
There is no statute or case law provision which gives anything for the court to work with regarding deciding how to approach possibly extending PG&E’s probation past the statutory limit, Hinds’ report said, concluding this case wasn’t a good case to set a precedent with.
“The United States does not believe that an evidentiary hearing on the pending Form 12 is necessary. The allegations in the Form 12 are closely intertwined with two pending state criminal prosecutions of PG&E, in Sonoma and Shasta counties… in fact, given the provisions of 18 U.S.C. § 3564, penalties against PG&E for the conduct alleged in the Form 12 appear to be unavailable in this federal form at the time… conversely, the district attorney’s offices in Sonoma and Shasta counties are actively prosecuting felony criminal cases against PG&E for the same underlying conduct. At this juncture, it appears that the state courts are the proper forum for further development of the evidence. Furthermore, if PG&E is convicted, a broader array of sentencing options will be available in that forum,” Hinds’ report stated.