The San Mateo County Superior Court judge overseeing the lawsuits filed against PG&E in connection with the Sept. 9 pipeline explosion said today that he is looking to appoint a special master to help with the case.
Judge Steven Dylina told lawyers at a hearing in the Redwood City Hall of Justice that a special master would greatly help with resolving as many cases as possible before a trial began.
A special master is someone appointed by a court to carry out some sort of action on its behalf, such as compiling evidence or being a facilitator for the parties involved. For example, Congress appointed a special master to administer compensation for the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York.
“These matters are of the highest priority to this court. So I’d like to get this resolved sooner than later,” Dylina told 17 lawyers who appeared in his eighth-floor courtroom for the hearing. “I’m hoping a special master will help in doing that.”
Dylina added that he would still be heavily involved in overseeing the case throughout the process.
However, the attorneys representing residents who filed lawsuits opposed Dylina’s choice, suggesting that appointing the person—who used to work for a law firm that represents PG&E—would hamper the fire victims’ desire for transparency.
“Our concern is that at every turn PG&E is involved,” said Frank Pitre, whose firm is representing about 50 people affected by the fire and who will be acting as one of the liaisons for all the lawyers during the proceedings.
Now, lawyers representing both the victims and PG&E are expected to take the next two weeks to agree on someone—possibly a retired San Mateo County judge—to be the special master for the case.
Meanwhile, the number of lawsuits filed against PG&E as a result of the fire has grown to 86, which includes more than 250 people.
Attorney Amanda Riddle, whose firm is representing nearly 100 residents, said her firm is expecting to file 16 more lawsuits within the next week.
And Kate Dyer, one of the lawyers representing PG&E in the case, said the utility has already settled with two residents and one family whose loved one died in the fire. Another settlement meeting with a resident will take place in August, Dyer said.
No details were disclosed with any of the settlements.