San Francisco federal judge Thelton Henderson ordered Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to run television and newspaper advertisements announcing that the company was guilty of safety violations. This ruling comes in the wake of the natural gas pipeline explosion in 2010 that resulted in the deaths of eight people.
The jury convicted PG&E in August of five felony charges in failing to adequately inspect and repair its aging pipelines. The pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people, injured 58, and destroyed 38 homes was found to be caused by this failure.
The judges also ordered 2,000 hours of community service to “high-level personnel,” and fined the company $3 million. The company received the maximum fine allowed because its violations were “very serious and pose great risk to the public safety,” according to a statement.
The company agreed to acknowledge its guilt as ordered. The advertisements will begin within the next two months. The company also did not object to the order of community service for high-level officials, or the additional order that the company as a whole perform another 8,000 hours of service. The service will be monitored by a probation officer, according to Henderson.
“I strongly recommend that this service be in the town of San Bruno to the extent possible,” said Henderson.
Former federal prosecutor William Portanova said that the order for 2,000 hours of service to be completed by high-level officials “is an unusual order, and would be difficult to enforce. Who decides who’s senior? This gets right to the question, the craziness, of prosecuting a corporation.”
Portanova had similar reservations to the requirement that the company advertise its guilt, “akin to having a thief be forced to wear a sandwich sign outside the store he victimized,” or “having a Kindergartner wearing a sign taped to his shirt saying ‘I bite’ as a punishment for biting.” However, he conceded that it is “almost pointless to punish crimes if no one hears about it.”
During trial last years, prosecutors initially sought a penalty of $562 million. The prosecution held that this was twice the amount that the company had saved by taking safety shortcuts, but backed off the proposal after Henderson excluded a majority of the evidence of cost cutting.