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Earlier this month, officials at Sempra Energy accused plaintiffs attorney Thomas Girardi of persuading Attorney General Bill Lockyer to do his bidding. Girardi replied in court documents that he tried — and was “massively upset” that it didn’t work. In a declaration filed Nov. 18 in a huge antitrust case against Sempra, Girardi said he met with Lockyer to plead for the state to stay out of the antitrust case against Sempra. Instead, he wrote, Lockyer screwed up settlement talks by filing suit against the company when Girardi was close to settling. “I was massively upset with the attorney general and made my disappointment clear to him,” Girardi — a major Lockyer donor — wrote in the declaration. Already wincing from Lockyer’s Nov. 16 decision to sue, Girardi, a partner with Girardi & Keese, got dinged the next day by Sempra’s PR people and chairman. They publicly proclaimed that Girardi influenced Lockyer to persuade the state to file a separate suit as a means of pressuring Sempra into settling Girardi’s case. Several Southern California newspapers reported those accusations. “Nothing is further from the truth,” Girardi wrote in his declaration. Girardi and Robert Cooper, a Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner representing Sempra, didn’t return phone calls about the situation, which is the latest complication to grow from the San Diego energy suits stemming from the 2000 energy crisis. One of those spats was partially tidied up last Tuesday, when San Diego County Superior Court Judge Ronald Prager took over a suit against other gas companies originally filed in Los Angeles by Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante. That prevented Bustamante and his lawyer, Raymond Boucher, from entering into a settlement that would have undercut competing suits by plaintiffs lawyers — and created a state university professorship in Bustamante’s name. That settlement could still move forward via a related federal case, though. Walter Lack, Girardi’s co-counsel in the Sempra suit, said Girardi filed the declaration because he was worried that Sempra’s accusations would influence Prager. “It could look to the judge like we did influence the AG to file the suit, when in reality we were fighting it,” Lack said. To clarify the situation, Girardi wrote in his declaration that any influence he may have wielded with the AG didn’t get him much further than a personal meeting with Lockyer and some phone calls with his staff. In an early November meeting, Girardi wrote, he argued that Lockyer should continue working on an out-of-court settlement with Sempra, rather than suing. “I stated to the attorney general that if Sempra’s conduct had been hanging around for five years, it seemed to me that the attorney general could wait another month or so until the case was concluded.” For their part, Lockyer staffers say Girardi’s declaration is about right. “It is, I think, correct in that he’s expressing disappointment in that the attorney general’s office did not enter into a settlement” with Sempra, said James Thomas “Tom” Greene, Lockyer’s chief deputy. Greene said his office had been clear with Sempra that it planned to sue if no settlement was forthcoming. “The state was engaged with Sempra for about six weeks, and we were very clear about what the consequences would be,” he said. But in Girardi and Lack’s case, the ongoing trial — and public bickering — have not stopped settlement talks. “Every day, all day, Girardi and I have been doing a lot of the talks,” he said. That’s not to say he didn’t have a stern talk with Sempra about the public insult-slinging. “We finally got them to agree they made a mistake, and they’ll never do it again,” Lack said.

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