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July 2014 Archives

Lawsuit Reveals Emails, Cozy Relationship Between CPUC, PG&E

The San Bruno gas pipeline explosion in 2010 killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes. Four years later, litigation is still ongoing. Last year, Pacific Gas & Electric -- the utility company responsible for the pipeline -- was told by the California Public Utility Commission that it should pay $2.25 billion "for decades of negligence," The Associated Press reported. Federal prosecutors have charged PG&E with felony safety violations.

Just when things couldn't get worse, last week, emails revealed as part of a lawsuit settlement suggest a very cozy relationship between PG&E and CPUC officials regulating the company.

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While certainly not as exciting as the prospect of six Californias, or as debatable as the value of the death penalty, there are still many legal issues in California that are making headlines.

In this week's update, we take a look at a new celebrity lawsuit, how California is dealing with the water shortage, and keeping firearms out of the wrong hands.

Meet Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, the Academic Justice

Last week, Governor Jerry Brown appointed Stanford Law professor Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar to the California Supreme Court, reported the Los Angeles Times. In January, Cuéllar will fill the seat of Justice Marvin Baxter, who will not seek reelection in November. Cuéllar has all the right bona fides to sit on California's highest court: Harvard undergraduate, Yale Law School, plus a Ph.D. in political science from Stanford. He's taught at Stanford Law School since 2001.

Cuéllar, however, has something that's unusual for a California Supreme Court justice: no judicial experience at all. Six of the seven justices on the Court came straight from a position on a Court of Appeal. Governor Brown's most recent appointment, Goodwin Liu, is the exception. Prior to joining the Supreme Court, Justice Liu was a professor at Berkeley Law School and had done some work in private practice and for the U.S. Department of Education. He was the odd man out on a court composed of people who were judges already.

California's Death Penalty Ruled Arbitrary and Unconstitutional

Shocker: the death penalty in California is a joke.

Okay, we all knew that. It's a ridiculously expensive, wasteful, inefficient, broken, delayed, and completely and utterly dysfunctional system that, quite frankly, isn't doing its job: killing killers. Out of more than 900 sentenced to death, the state has only executed 13 since 1978 -- less than two percent. And any deterrent effect, after waiting decades for sentences to maybe, just maybe, be carried out is minimal at this point.

Whatever adjective you choose to describe our system in the Golden State, U.S. District Court Judge Carmac Carney has two more to add to that list: arbitrary and unconstitutional.

How Awesome Would 'Six Californias' Be?

2016: the year Californians declared their independence from each other.

What in the heck am I talking about? There's a proposition, apparently headed for the ballot in 2016, that would do just that: Split the state into six new states -- Jefferson, North California, Silicon Valley, Central California, West California, and South California. It's the scheme of venture capitalist Tim Draper, who has sunk $1.3 million into getting the necessary signatures. But even if the measure passes (59 percent of polled voters are against the idea), the state and federal legislatures would have to sign off.

In other words, it's never going to happen. But should it?

Gov. Jerry Brown's Nominees for Cal. Appeals Courts

There are a lot of new faces on the appeals court bench.

We've already noted that Gov. Brown will have two vacancies to fill on the California Supreme Court alone. Late last month, he also addressed a number of vacancies on the state's appeals bench, with six nominees.

All six are expected to be confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments. The Commission is headed by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye. The two other votes belong to Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris and a senior presiding justice of the appellate court for which the candidate has been nominated, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Hey Look: State Bar is About to Make Recent Grads' Lives Worse

It's bad enough trying to pass the bar in this dear state. With a three-day exam, no reciprocity with anyone, and the exorbitant fees, plus the cost of bar review class, joining the California State bar is no picnic. Part and parcel of course is the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE), which to be fair, is pretty much required everywhere, but it's still one more thing to add to the list.

But don't worry, current and future law students: things will get worse. The current word from the State Bar is that a few teaks to "training requirements" for incoming lawyers are on the way, ones that will make things more difficult for law schools, law students, and young cash-strapped lawyers looking to tap into the Golden State's job market.

How Will Hobby Lobby Affect Californians?

The dust is still settling after Hobby Lobby, in which the Supreme Court ruled in favor of exempting closely held corporations from the Obamacare contraceptive mandate, but Californians may not feel the aftershock.

Why? California has laws in place that require employers to include birth control in their prescription drug coverage. But these laws don't cover the same legal ground as the healthcare mandate.

So how will Hobby Lobby affect Californians?