Settlement Over 2013 DWP Billing Debacle Challenged

 In blog, Crime –

Settlement Over 2013 DWP Billing Debacle Challenged

by Contributing Editor

A new set of attorneys says the lawsuit and 2017 settlement over the 2013 DWP billing debacle, in which hundreds of thousands of customers were erroneously charged, need to be reexamined and possibly reworked and could yield more than $50 million in refunds for customers in addition to the more than $67 million already agreed to, it was reported Friday.

The original deal had been touted as a win for aggrieved L.A. ratepayers who had been hit with grossly inflated bills from the Department of Water and Power: A settlement of a class-action lawsuit that would provide refunds or credit or 100% of what they were wrongly charged, according to the utility. One of the attorneys who represented customers who sued the utility called the agreement a “home run.” It was eventually expected to return more than $67 million to ratepayers.

Now a new set of attorneys has taken over the case after accusations that lawyers engineered the lawsuit and 2017 settlement to help the city, the Los Angeles Times reported. They say the whole agreement needs to be re-examined and possibly reworked.

In a legal filing made Thursday, attorneys Brian Kabateck, Anastasia Mazzella and Brian Hong argued that key areas that had been previously overlooked could yield more than $50 million in additional refunds for customers and that ratepayers are probably owed even more because of other omissions, The Times reported.

The filing marks the latest chapter in the fallout over the 2013 DWP billing debacle, in which hundreds of thousands of customers were erroneously charged. It comes days after FBI agents descended on the DWP headquarters and City Hall, serving search warrants that city officials said were tied to the billing settlement and an ensuing legal battle with the company that oversaw the launch of the new software that spit out faulty bills.

Experts now say that the settlement could be tossed or replaced — a move that could trigger new dilemmas for the utility and City Attorney Mike Feuer, whose office worked on the deal, according to The Times.

Feuer spokesman Ivor Pine told The Times his had yet to review the filing.

However, in a statement, Pine said lawyers for the city had spoken to Kabateck and that they shared key goals, including ensuring that the terms of the settlement, which “provide 100% return to the ratepayers, are implemented effectively.”

Kabateck is not the first attorney to cast doubt on the agreement.

Critics, including attorneys for other customers suing the DWP over the billing disaster, challenged the deal after it was initially proposed to the court four years ago, according to The Times. They called the agreement “half-baked” and argued that it put too much power in the hands of the same agency that had bungled the billing. A revised settlement was ultimately approved two years ago.

The city, in turn, sued PricewaterhouseCoopers, the consulting firm that oversaw the implementation of the billing software, in an attempt to recover tens of millions of dollars that it argued it was owed for the debacle. But the company fired back in court and put forward a troubling revelation: The lead plaintiff in the ratepayers’ class-action lawsuit against the city, Antwon Jones, had been represented by an attorney who was also working for Feuer on the PricewaterhouseCoopers lawsuit.

L.A. ratepayers were “victimized by the city, which effectively filed a lawsuit against itself,” Kabateck and his colleagues wrote in Thursday’s filing, The Times reported.

The city brought in “favorable attorneys who were willing to agree to the terms of the settlement, which placed the city in control of practically every aspect of the settlement,” the attorneys wrote, according to The Times.

Retooling the Jones settlement could prove costly. Kabateck and his fellow attorneys said in their filing that they want to retain consultants and other personnel to investigate the agreement, “with the city to bear the costs,” The Times reported.

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All credit goes to Contributing Editor
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