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Harris Questioned For Representing Gov. Brown During San Onofre Probe

Photo by Richard Vogel AP

California Attorney General Kamala Harris

How does a prosecutor build a case if she’s representing a potential witness in her investigation?

It’s a question some are asking about California Attorney General Kamala Harris' criminal inquiry into how customers were left with a $3.3 billion bill for the closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

San Diego consumer lawyer Mike Aguirre has asked Gov. Jerry Brown’s office for records and communications related to San Onofre, the California Public Utilities Commission and the state’s power companies. Harris has notified Aguirre she is representing Brown’s office in Aguirre's request for documents under the California Public Records Act. She has undertaken her own criminal investigation into the secret dealings between the utilities and state regulators including the San Onofre settlement. Several of the records Aguirre has requested from Brown are related to that deal.

Former San Diego County District Attorney Paul Pfingst said the attorney general can't do both jobs.

“In this case, for the [attorney general] to investigate the communications with the [California Public Utilities Commission] while representing a potential witness who is a potential subject of the investigation is a conflict,” Pfingst said.

Aguirre called the conflict so blatant that he believes the U.S. Justice Department should take over Harris' criminal inquiry.

“One of the problems with the conflict is it invites the attorney general to narrow the investigation to avoid the conflict,” Aguirre said.

A Harris spokesman said there’s an ethical firewall between the attorney general’s civil division representing the governor’s office and its criminal section responsible for the investigation into the California Public Utilities Commission and the state’s energy companies. Harris is currently running for the U.S. Senate.

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Amita Sharma
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an investigative reporter for KPBS, I've helped expose political scandals and dug into intractable issues like sex trafficking. I've raised tough questions about how government treats foster kids. I've spotlighted the problem of pollution in poor neighborhoods. And I've chronicled corporate mistakes and how the public sometimes ends up paying for them.

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