A judge today will once again consider a proposed settlement that calls for the Department of Water and Power to pay out tens of millions of dollars in refunds to customers who overpaid amid a problem-filled overhaul of the utility’s billing system.
Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle delayed making a decision on the deal
in two previous hearings after attorneys for some of the plaintiffs raised
objections to the way another attorney had drawn up the terms with the DWP.
Consumer advocates also said they were concerned about the deal because its
terms give DWP officials too much power in deciding how much they would refund
or back-bill customers.
But utility officials say the deal, if accepted by the court, would
result in $44 million total in overcharges to be credited back to customers and
would give back “100 cents on the dollar to every customer affected by our
billing system problems.”
They added that the settlement also gives customers a “thorough and
fair neutral process for resolving claims, including the opportunity to have
their claims heard directly by the court.”
The new settlement, which was filed in court last month, includes all 12
revisions requested by Berle, according to DWP officials. Those changes
include putting in signature lines for class plaintiff representatives, using
six languages on the claims forms, setting up an online claims submission
system, and giving clearer information about the kinds of claims ratepayers
Consumer advocates critical of the deal say that despite the recent
revisions, the settlement terms still give DWP too much power to dictate the
refund amount. Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court last month called the
revised settlement “remarkably flawed,” and the claims process it would set
Court also lashed back at the DWP’s statements, saying that the attorney
who crafted the settlement will get his $13 million in fees as soon as the
settlement deal goes through, while customers may need to wait until 2017 or
later to get their checks.