Jason Well Still Unable to Explain Why PG&E Stiffed Butte Fire Victims

PG&E Chief Financial Officer Jason Wells appeared in Bankruptcy Court to answer questions under oath.  It was his second time.  The first time, I asked him about the bonus PG&E paid to CEO Geisha Williams as she was shown the door.   I couldn’t understand why, in the days leading to the bankruptcy, PG&E found $2.5 million in cash to stuff into her pocket, but couldn’t come up with the money PG&E agreed to pay to certain of the Butte fire survivors.  It was especially hard to understand why PG&E would pay Williams rather than the Butte fire victims given that Williams was in charge of PG&E’s electrical system when it burned down the victims’ homes.

During his first appearance in court Wells could only bob and weave before finally tell me that he would have to “get back to me” with his answer at the next round of questioning.  But after two months, Wells still had no answer.

Question to PG&E CFO Jason Well (By Mr. Danko): . . .[W]hy did PG&E decide to pay Geisha Williams [PG&E’s former CEO] her 2.5 million dollar bonus in the days leading up to the bankruptcy, but not pay the Butte fire victims the agreed up settlements?

Answer: (By Mr. Wells): Sir, during the previous hearing we discussed how we had to make a decision [to] preserve the ongoing service of our Gas and Electric business and we were put in an untenable situation given the unusual notice requirement of Senate Bill 901 which required us to disclose that we intended to file for bankruptcy without having the protection of the bankruptcy court itself and so, unfortunately we were in a position of having to make prioritization on payments so we didn’t run out of cash.

Question: I understand that you said last time that you were going to preserve cash and that is why you didn’t pay the Butte fire victims or honor the agreements that you made with the Butte fire victims. My question, however, is why did you pay Geisha Williams her bonus in the days leading to the bankruptcy and not honor your other agreements? Why did you prioritize [Geisha Williams’] deal over the deal you had reached with the Butte fire victims?

Answer: Sir, you asked this question and we answered it extensively as part of the 341 hearing two months ago.

Question: You looked at the transcript of that hearing, I’m sure?

Answer: No.

Question: Oh, you didn’t? Well let me refresh you. I asked you “why did PG&E decide to pay Geisha Williams her severance and not pay the Butte fire victims their settlements?” Your answer was, “I don’t have an answer for your question.” I asked you then, “where would I get that answer? If not from you, then from who?” And then you promised me, “I’ll be prepared to discuss that at the next meeting.”

That is why I am here now. You have had two months to think about it. I am looking for your answer as to why you paid Geisha Williams her 2.5 million dollar bonus while you . . you couldn’t pay, you couldn’t honor the agreements that you had made with the Butte fire victims to pay them. So why did you prioritize payment to Geisha Williams, who was in charge of the whole operation when those people were burnt out of house and lost all of their belongings? Why did you prioritize paying her bonus over paying the money that you agreed to pay the victims who needed that because they were homeless? That is my question for you. And I thought you had two months to think about that answer and you were going to give it to me when I came here today.

Answer: No, I appreciate your question. We had to take in to consideration all of the obligations the company was facing and we collectively came to the conclusion that we needed to make that severance payment.

Question: Why? Why did you need to make that severance payment? Was Geisha Williams homeless?

Answer: She was not homeless.

Question: Had she lost her home in a fire?

Answer: She had not lost her home in a fire.

Question: Ok, so why [did you decide] to pay Geisha Williams her bonus but not honor the agreement to pay the Butte fire victims what they were owed.

Answer: It was part of her employment agreement or arrangement with the company.

Question: So that is why you gave that some sort of a priority, because she had an employment agreement?

Answer: Ultimately.

Question: Why did you prioritize the employment agreement over people who basically had nothing?

Answer: Sir, we are committed to resolving these claims that the company faces.

Question: Yes, but my question is not whether you are committed to resolving the claims the company faces. My question is why did you prioritize Geisha Williams’s claim over the claims of the fire victims?

Answer: Sir, you have made your point.

Question: I’m looking for an answer. You told me you would be prepared to discuss it today. I have waited two months on behalf of my clients for an answer. They want to know is why you paid Geisha Williams.

Answer: You have made your point sir.

Question: Is your answer you have no idea?

Answer: Sir, we as a company collect and disperse more than 80 million dollars a day. We were making hundreds and thousands of decisions on prioritization. You have my answer. You have made your point many times.

So there you have it.  PG&E paid Geisha Williams her agreed upon $2.5 million bonus, but renegged on paying the Butte Fire victims their agreed upon settlements because, well, they were shelling out $80 million a day and just felt it more important to honor its agreement to the one in charge when the fire started than her victims.

When PG&E says it cares about the fire victims, it’s just not true.