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Federal Judge says he would give 'serious consideration' to extending PG&E's probation

PG&E denied two probation violations related to the Kincade and Zogg fires today, but the federal judge expressed new interest in extending the company's probation

CALIFORNIA, USA — Federal judge William Alsup expressed frustration with PG&E Monday over what he characterized as a failure to learn from repeated offenses during the company’s probation.

“Five years… down the drain because you will not accept responsibility,” Alsup told the company this morning.

PG&E is nearing the end of its five-year probation for the San Bruno Gas explosion. Today, the company denied two new charges of probation violations related to the 2019 Kincade Fire and the 2020 Zogg Fire, which killed four people.

“We did not hear, ‘I’m sorry,’ from PG&E today,” said law professor Cathy Sandoval, who represents ratepayers in PG&E’s probation.

Sandoval hopes the U.S. Attorneys will go forward with hearings to prove the probation violations now that PG&E has denied them. Whether or not that will happen became an open question today, with the U.S. Attorneys declining to say whether they wished to go forward with proving the allegations. 

As of this afternoon, an evidentiary hearing remains on the calendar for Jan. 10, but U.S. Attorneys have until Jan. 6 at noon to inform the court whether they wish to go forward with it.

ABC10 has reported previously that PG&E equipment has sparked fires every year of its probation. That seemed to weigh heavily on the judge.

RELATED: Disaster survivors to judge: Don’t let PG&E off of probation | Fire - Power - Money

“I wish I could be able to say that PG&E has learned something from this probation. It has not,” he said, “It’s still as recalcitrant as ever.”

The probation is set to expire on Jan. 26, but Judge Alsup expressed new interest in extending it. He invited the U.S. Attorneys directly to file a motion asking him to do it. He didn’t promise he would extend probation, but that he would “give that serious consideration.”

Sandoval calls this a positive sign, noting that the U.S. Attorneys have previously told the judge there are no laws explicitly saying he can but neither are there any laws that say he cannot.

“It hasn’t been commonly done. But the statute doesn’t prohibit it,” she said.

ABC10 has spoken to many survivors of PG&E’s fires who’ve said they want the judge to extend the company’s probation.

“How else do you hold these types to their crimes but through this probation process?” asked Butte Fire survivor Terry McBride in a video message for the judge.

PG&E has said it will fight any criminal charges against the Kincade and Zogg fires. The 2020 Zogg Fire started after a tree fell into one of PG&E’s lines. Judge Alsup pointed out again today that PG&E contractors marked the tree in question as a danger to the line that needed to be cut down two years before it fell onto the line that sparked the fire. 

“You know good and well you started the fire,” the judge said to PG&E today.

Suzie Bewley’s granddaughter, 8-year-old Feyla McLeod, burned to death with her mother Alaina Rowe McLeod trying to escape the Zogg Fire. 

“Everything that happened could have been easily prevented,” she said.

Bewley told ABC10 over the phone that she hopes Judge Alsup will extend PG&E’s probation. 

“I’m happy that he’s considering it, and I hope that he does. I really, really hope that he stays in,” she said. She hopes continued oversight will help prevent further disasters, adding: “No family should have to go through this.”

ABC10 reached out to the U.S. Attorney’s office to ask whether they will file a motion asking Judge Alsup to extend PG&E’s probation. They declined to comment.

RELATED: PG&E accused of violating probation for allegedly starting Zogg, Kincade fires, judge says


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