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Sempra Suit Notice Criticized

January 13, 2006|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Two California agencies said Thursday that the public notice about Sempra Energy's settlement of lawsuits accusing the company of gouging exaggerated the agreement's value and savings to natural gas customers.

The California Department of Water Resources and the Electricity Oversight Board said in a court filing that the proposed notice by plaintiffs' lawyers overstated how much the public might benefit. The agencies say in the filing that natural gas customers may receive as little as $181 million, not the $1.7 billion that the lawyers had estimated.

San Diego-based Sempra Energy, the owner of Southern California Gas Co., the largest U.S. natural gas utility, said Jan. 4 that it agreed to settle lawsuits accusing it of conspiring to thwart competition in the gas market and driving up prices.

"The total consideration that can credibly be claimed is only a small percentage of the $1.7 billion asserted by class counsel, perhaps as little as $181 million," the filing said.

Countered Pierce O'Donnell, lead plaintiffs' attorney for the class-action case: "We believe that this is a terrific settlement. We believe that our quantification of it understates the benefit to California consumers."

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