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Court date set in case blocking release of PG&E’s criminal records

The 7,000-page record of the criminal case against PG&E for sparking the Camp Fire has been kept secret since the company pleaded guilty in June 2020.
Credit: Brandon Rittiman
Lead Camp Fire prosecutor Marc Noel (left) and Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey (right) pose with the 7,000-page transcript of the criminal case against PG&E for the 2018 Camp Fire. The records, which come from an investigatory grand jury that took testimony over the course of a year, remain under seal due to a court order in a lawsuit funded by PG&E in the wake of the Camp Fire convictions. PG&E's century-old Caribou-Palermo transmission line was allowed to wear down until it broke in a windstorm, resulting 85 felony convictions in the deadliest homicide ever committed by a corporation on U.S. soil.

SACRAMENTO, Calif — A state appeals court in Sacramento plans to hear oral arguments Jan. 21, 2022, in a lawsuit that’s concealed details of PG&E’s crimes for California’s deadliest-ever wildfire for more than 16 months.

PG&E pleaded guilty to 84 felony counts of involuntary manslaughter for the 2018 Camp Fire, along with an 85th felony for sparking the fire through reckless and criminal negligence of its duty to maintain the power lines it owns. 

RELATED: Secrets of the Camp Fire: 3 years later, exposing evidence of PG&E’s crimes

As PG&E pleaded guilty, the company also funded a lawsuit on behalf of 22 of the hundreds of current and former employees who were named in the grand jury hearings that led to PG&E’s indictment on those charges. The 22 employees were supposed to be anonymous, but ABC10 obtained their names from court documents filed by their attorneys. 

Their lawsuit is holding up the release of the roughly 7,000-page transcript of a yearlong investigation conducted in secret by a Butte County grand jury. 

The district attorney whose office led the investigation wants the pages to come out, pointing out that California law ordinarily makes grand jury transcripts public quickly: ten days after a case is finished. 

“This is the people testifying… and the evidence that flowed from that testimony,” Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey said. "What exactly was that evidence that so scared [PG&E] they felt that they needed to plead [guilty] to 84 deaths?" 

The 22 employees claimed their safety will be at risk due to potential retribution, but Ramsey points out that the company has been unable to show evidence of vigilantism against individuals at PG&E in the wake of the crimes that occurred more than three years ago. 

California’s supreme court has previously ruled on the issue of balancing the risk of threats against the public’s right to know. In a 2007 decision involving the release of police officer names to a newspaper, the high court held “‘a mere assertion of possible endangerment’ is insufficient to justify nondisclosure.” 

The lawsuit over PG&E’s criminal records from the Camp Fire case is in the 3rd Dist. Court of Appeal and will be heard by a three judge panel composed of Presiding Justice Vance Raye along with justices Jonathan Renner and Peter Krause. 

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

Watch more from ABC10

Secrets of the Camp Fire: Exposing evidence of PG&E’s crimes | Fire - Power - Money