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Judge blocks post-San Bruno email as overly prejudicial in PG&E trial

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Judge blocks post-San Bruno email as overly prejudicial in PG&E trial

The jury in the criminaltrial against PacificGas and Electric Co. will never see internal company emails thatthe prosecution believes reflect employee awareness of guilt, a judge ruledJuly 14.

The correspondence in question — sent in the immediateaftermath of the fatal 2010 San Bruno, Calif., pipeline explosion — recommendedthat PG&E employees should refrain from using email to discuss the pipethat ruptured and should consider using attorney-client privilege to keep anywritten correspondence internal to the company.

The prosecution's assertion that this message demonstratesconsciousness of guilt and corrupt intentions is just speculation, Judge TheltonHenderson said in a July 14 order.

For the correspondence to be relevant, Henderson said theprosecution would have to make the case that the email's author — PG&Eengineer Frank Dauby — wrote it specifically in anticipation of a NationalTransportation Safety Board investigation or the current criminal case.

PG&E is charged with obstructing the NTSB investigation,but that obstruction chargecenters on an exchange between the company and the board that took place inApril 2011.

"The government must … speculate about Mr. Dauby'smotive in an attempt to tie said motive to (i) conduct nearly seven monthslater … in an investigation that had not yet commenced at the time of hisemail; or (ii) PG&E's guilt in a criminal prosecution that would notcommence for another three and a half years," Henderson wrote. "Meanwhile,there is a substantial risk that the jury will have a negative emotionalreaction to a perceived 'cover up' in the hours following the tragic San Brunoaccident."

The judge's recent decisions were not all favorable forPG&E, however. He allowed as evidence a host of other PG&E , which the prosecutionsaid shows that the utility choseless rigorousinspection tactics tosave money in theyears leading up to the 2010 explosion.

The judge also nixed PG&E's attempts to introduce mapsthat showed parts of the company's service territory and employees' addresses.A number of PG&E employees live in close proximity to company pipelines,which the defense said undercuts the prosecution's argument that the company orits employees "would knowingly and willfully make the choices that thegovernment contends PG&E made to compromise public safety." Thedefense attorneys produced the maps too late in the , the judge said, and so they willnot be able to show them to the jury.

In addition to the obstruction charge, thePG&E Corp.subsidiary also faces 12 felony counts of violating the Natural Gas PipelineSafety Act.