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The confirmation trial of the California Public Utilities Commission’s alternative plan to reorganize bankrupt Pacific Gas & Electric Co. kicked off in San Francisco Monday with a handful of opening statements and a lengthy cross-examination of the regulating agency’s general counsel. Gary Cohen, the top lawyer at the CPUC, spent a good part of the day on the witness stand answering complex questions about his agency’s plan to restructure PG&E’s $13.5 billion in debt through a combination of debt and equities offerings. The CPUC’s reorganization plan has the endorsement of the official committee of unsecured creditors, which signed on as a co-proponent earlier this year. But it faces intense opposition from PG&E, whose competing bankruptcy reorganization plan is slated to go on trial in mid-December. Stephen Neal, a Cooley Godward litigator representing PG&E during the trial, drilled down into the arcane mechanics of the CPUC plan, asking Cohen to provide detailed financial information on how the plan would operate. In particular, Neal concentrated on the plan’s provision to allow the CPUC to maintain retail electricity rates at a certain level for up to 30 years. The testy cross-examination lasted more than four hours and prompted numerous objections from the CPUC side that the inquiries were confusing and too complex. The trial of the two competing reorganization plans is unlike typical confirmation hearings that come before the bankruptcy court. For starters, the narrow, 22nd floor San Francisco courtroom was outfitted with extra microphones and a giant, flat-screen monitor to display evidence to the large audience. In a sign of the unusual nature of the trial, the opening statements delivered by PG&E, the CPUC and the creditors’ committee varied between typical bankruptcy law arguments and eloquent jury trial arguments. Alan Kornberg, a partner at New York-based Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison and the chief bankruptcy counsel for the CPUC, catalogued the confirmation requirements of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code and how the commission’s plan satisfied them. PG&E’s Neal, however, was less technical and lambasted the “scorched earth” tactics that the CPUC had resorted to in order to derail the utility’s own reorganization plan. “At any point in time the plan has been vague, ill-defined, and it has been porous,” said Neal.

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