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Norma Formanek, a litigation partner at San Francisco-based Farella Braun & Martel, has been selected as co-chairwoman of the energy litigation committee of the American Bar Association’s litigation section. Formanek, who’s been representing the California Independent System Operator practically full time over the past year, says she feels a sense of accomplishment that the litigation she’s done on the ISO’s behalf has forced power generators to keep supplying electricity during critical months this past winter. “These people are on a mission to make sure Californians have a safe and reliable energy supply,” said Formanek, speaking of the ISO. “They’re doing the right thing, they’re not profit-driven, and that makes for a really extraordinary corporate experience.” For the past year, she has led a team of lawyers representing the nonprofit public benefit corporation responsible for reliable delivery of electricity throughout the state and for operation of the California transmission grid. At the height of this winter’s energy crisis, Formanek enjoined energy suppliers from reneging on obligations to supply power to California. Her work has included litigation in the largely uncharted territory of California deregulation, in both state and federal courts and in administrative proceedings. Right now, she spends almost all of her time doing work for the ISO, and makes the two-hour drive to its Folsom, Calif., headquarters about twice a month. Formanek said the ISO runs markets where power sellers offer electricity to meet last-minute demand. And the ISO is one of San Francisco-based Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s biggest creditors because it acts as a clearinghouse — billing utilities PG&E, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric for the power their customers consume — then passing the money collected to the sellers. Formanek is currently involved in about six pieces of litigation for the ISO, and spends an equal amount of time in an advisory role to it. “At this point I know so much about the regulatory framework and their operational problems that I’m in a position to offer them more general business advice,” she said. “When you’ve unwound enough problems you can see how people have gotten themselves into them pretty clearly.” Formanek is also defending the agency in a suit brought by PG&E, which is now in discovery, and in an illegal takings suit initiated by energy supplier Duke Electric Ltd. “It’s been the most fascinating year of my career,” she said. “However high the demands have got, the satisfaction of serving this particular client completely overwhelms it. I’m remarkably content now.” Besides her ISO work, Formanek represents plaintiffs and defendants in strategically sensitive complex technology and commercial cases. She also has extensive experience in intellectual property litigation, recently defending a complex suit alleging infringement of patents covering semiconductor processing. She is a 1983 magna cum laude graduate of University of California Hastings College of the Law, where she was also a member of Order of the Coif and the Thurston Society. For the ABA’s energy litigation committee, Formanek is expected to develop the committee’s strategic plan, publish substantive educational materials for the committee’s members, develop educational programs, and promote a diversity plan for involving minorities and women in section leadership.

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