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80 attorneys in one courtroom help Porter Ranch residents defeat gas company in one battle

Two months after the Aliso Canyon gas leak was capped, the sprawling scope of litigation against Southern California Gas Co. was on display Wednesday in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom.

About 80 attorneys — from 73 law firms, representing thousands of plaintiffs in 131 legal actions — introduced themselves to Superior Court Judge John Shepard Wiley Jr. and argued for extending the gas company’s relocation program.

The leak in the hills above Porter Ranch, first reported Oct. 23, prompted 8,000 families to leave their homes because of headaches, nosebleeds and vomiting brought on by an odorant in the leaking methane.

Three attorneys were present to represent the gas company.

The leak was capped in February, but 3,800 families remain in temporary accommodations, according to a spokesman for the gas company.

On Wednesday, Wiley ordered the company to continue paying those housing and hotel costs until at least May 31, when the court expects to review the results of indoor air tests conducted by the L.A. County Department of Public Health.

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Attorneys for the gas company have argued that the relocation program should come to an end because the well is no longer leaking and data show air quality has returned to normal.

Jim Dragna, an attorney for the company, questioned the accuracy of a survey from the Department of Public Health showing that 62% of respondents living near Aliso Canyon continued to experience symptoms after the leak was stopped.

“I think there is nothing but speculation and no evidence,” he said.

Separately, the judge denied a motion to force the gas company to provide reimbursements within three days of receiving receipts. Since the leak began, the company has issued $66.2 million in reimbursements, it says.

Because of the number of lawyers present Wednesday, the hearing had to be moved to a larger courtroom. Wiley started the hearing by asking all the attorneys to introduce themselves for the record. The exercise took 11 minutes and two microphones.

The two sides are scheduled to be back in court May 4.

alice.walton@latimes.com

Twitter: @TheCityMaven


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