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Attorneys fire back in feud over proposed DWP billing settlement

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) building.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) building.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Lawyers are feuding over a proposed deal to settle lawsuits over the bungled rollout of a new billing system at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

The utility was sued by several residents unhappy over receiving erroneous or inflated bills. When DWP announced a proposed settlement with ratepayer Antwon Jones last month, it said the deal could resolve the other cases as well.

But last week, attorneys representing several other residents who sued the department balked at the potential settlement, saying it had “fatal flaws” and urging the court to turn it down.

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Lawyers representing Sharon Bransford, Steven Shrager, Rachel Tash and Hayley Fontaine -- plaintiffs in two of the other cases -- argued that the proposed deal was “half-baked” because the DWP alone would decide who is entitled to refunds or credits and how much they would get, without disclosing their criteria or formula for calculating how much ratepayers are owed.

Attorneys representing Jones fired back in a court filing Thursday, saying that the other lawyers were trying to “derail the settlement for a single reason – namely, to create leverage to obtain unjustified attorneys’ fees.”

Jones’ lawyers defended the settlement and said that the objections raised by the other attorneys were “simply incorrect as a matter of fact.” Jones’ lawyers also said that an independent consultant, not the utility itself, would decide on whether the calculated refunds or credits were accurate.

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And they added that despite claims that important information for eligible residents would be provided in English only, the forms would in fact be provided in at least seven languages.

The court is to decide whether to grant preliminary approval to the settlement at a hearing next week. Under the proposed deal, Los Angeles residents who were overbilled will be credited for any excessive charges, or given refund checks if they have closed their accounts.

Follow @latimesemily for what’s happening at Los Angeles City Hall


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