The judge overseeing the federal trial against PG&E ruled Tuesday that the company is allowed to bring up the San Bruno blast in its defense but stressed to the jury that the disaster is not connected to the pipeline safety violations the company faces.
"This case is not about the cause of the San Bruno explosion," U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson told the jury deciding on 13 counts against the company, including the lone count of obstructing the National Transportation Safety Board probe into the 2010 explosion that killed eight people.
Henderson separately instructed the panel that the state’s post-San Bruno regulatory probe – which led to a $1.6 billion penalty -- also had no relation to the case.
"Such results," he said, "do not matter."
Henderson’s instructions came after PG&E – which had previously wanted to bar any mention of San Bruno in the case – did an about face and asked to refer to the disaster so as to put its post-blast actions into context.
In his written ruling, Henderson said the company’s stance was "at best puzzling and at worst self-serving."
In his ruling, Henderson concluded that it was "inevitable" that the jury would learn about state and federal probes of the blast and said PG&E’s about face was "unsurprising."
"It is hard to imagine how PG&E ever believed it would be possible to try this case without any reference to the San Bruno explosion," Henderson said in his written ruling.
While permitting the company to raise the blast in questioning witnesses, however, Henderson refused to bar prosecutors from asking follow-up questions under the theory that the company had "opened the door."