Victims of the Porter Ranch Gas Well Blowout, denied restitution as a result of a plea agreement between SoCalGas and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office in the criminal proceedings against the utility, will be heard before the Appellate Court early next year.
The California Court of Appeal Second District has ordered Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office to show cause as to why the Aliso Canyon Gas Well Blowout Victims should be deprived of their constitutional rights.
“The order issued by the Court of Appeal will allow the voices of the victims to be heard, something they weren’t afforded by SoCalGas or the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office when they struck their plea deal and denied our clients their constitutional right,” said Brian Panish, Co-Lead Trial Counsel for the victims. “Thousands of residents suffered the consequence of SoCalGas’ criminal negligence. Restitution for their damages should be the first priority of the People under California law.”
Under Marsy’s Law, victims of crime in California have a right to be paid for damages before any government agency, but that hasn’t been the case for the thousands of victims affected by the criminal misconduct of SoCalGas. A September 2016 plea agreement between the LADA’s Office and the utility company hobbled the victims ability to seek restitution by allowing SoCalGas to pay a $75,000 fine and enter a no contest plea to one misdemeanor charge of failing to timely report the release of hazardous materials from the Aliso Canyon Gas Storage Facility. The agreement was reached without the victims’ attorneys being present and did not require the utility to make restitution to any person for economic loss, including businesses — a violation of the Victim’s Bill of Rights.
Attorneys for the victims took the matter up to the California Court of Appeal after the Appellate Division of the Los Angeles Superior Court upheld the plea agreement and accepted SoCalGas’ and the LADA’s Office argument that there was no causal link between SoCalGas’ criminal conduct and the economic losses and damages suffered by the victims. Plaintiff’s Attorneys sought to answer important questions of criminal law, including whether a crime victim has a constitutional right to priority in payment of economic losses – a request that was also denied by the appellant panel.
The Appellate Court has set a deadline of December 17 by which both SoCalGas and the LA County District Attorney’s Office must respond to the court order, with attorneys for the victims replying by January 18, after which the Court will set a date to hear oral arguments from all parties and issue a written opinion based on the merits.
“As chairperson of the plaintiffs’ attorneys Restitution Committee, I could not be more pleased,” said former Los Angeles County District Attorney, Honorable Steve Cooley. “The magnitude of the damage suffered by the many victims and the victims’ rights issues posed deserved appellate review. Now the thousands of victims will get their day in court.”
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