Court trustee: PG&E padding $140M claim for legal fees

A federal trustee has ripped apart PG&E’s claim for $140 million in lawyers’ fees for the first few months of its bankruptcy, which the trustee predicts will be the “most expensive” ever.

While victims who lost their homes await damage payments and PG&E is using bankruptcy to dodge regulatory penalties, it has hired an army of corporate lawyers it is paying up to $1,500 an hour.

“Even for PG&E, this is completely over the top,” said The Utility Reform Network (TURN) executive director Mark Toney.  “While customers are left waiting in tents and trailers, and PG&E claims it is unable to find tree-trimmers, its lawyers are jumping on the bankruptcy gravy, billing in total over $1 M per day, much of it totally unjustified.”

TURN is a non-profit organization formed as an independent advocate for consumers dealing with various utilities in California.

According to the trustee, PG&E’s claim is padded every which way, with unjustified hourly rates, “implausibly high” billable hours, multiple attorneys attending meetings and conferences for no apparent reason and travel and meal expenses that should not be allowed, including:

Internal meetings and conference calls that were billed by as many as 22 attorneys from the same firm, with no explanation or justification;

Numerous instances of large numbers of attorneys billing for attending or observing the same hearing, again without any explanation or justification;

Implausibly high numbers of billable hours recorded by individuals for a single day, including a tab for close to half a million dollars for an attorney at Cravath, Swaine and Moore LLP who billed for over 100 consecutive 12 hour days;

Expenses incurred before the bankruptcy cases were filed or that predate the firm’s employment;

Non-working meals and air travel;

Inflated fees billed by recent law school graduates who had not yet been admitted to the bar.

TURN joined the Trustee’s Response to the Motion to Approve the Fees, telling the court “based on past experience TURN expects PG&E to seek to recover these fees and costs from ratepayers.  TURN has an obligation to ask that the Court disallow fees for the egregious billing practices highlighted by the US Trustee.”