Pacific Gas & Electric Company lawyers and prosecutors sparred in court Tuesday as jury selection began in the federal pipeline safety and obstruction case of the company arising out of the 2010 San Bruno blast.
Questionnaires filled out by 97 jurors indicated 41 had strong negative opinions about the utility in the wake of the blast, PG&E defense attorney Kate Dyer told US Judge Thelton Henderson. PG&E wanted to exclude those jurors up front, before any questioning.
But federal prosecutors opposed any automatic exclusions, saying the responses were in part based on PG&E's own admissions of negligence.
In the end, Henderson only excluded four jurors outright, saying he wants to question several others before ruling whether they should remain in the pool of prospective panelists. The judge also rejected PG&E's motion for sanctions based on alleged misconduct by prosecutors.
The utility stands accused of obstructing the National Transportation Safety Board probe. Prosecutors allege PG&E misled investigators about having having its own policy about whether to inspect pipelines after pressure overages.
The company faces as much as a half billion dollar fine if convicted. The trial is expected to last two months.
PG&E released the following statement on Tuesday:
"Regardless of the next legal steps, we want our customers to know we are focused on the future and on re-earning their trust by leading in safety, reliability, affordability and clean energy. We’ve made unprecedented progress and we’re committed to maintaining this focus."