Policy Practicum: Procedural Reform at the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC)


Course Code:
LAW 414I
Law Honors/Pass/Restrd Cr/Fail


The CPUC is an administrative agency headquartered in San Francisco that regulates electricity, natural gas, telecommunications, water, and transportation. Many of its decisions (both adjudicatory decisions and regulations) are of enormous importance to the California economy. The proceedings to adopt these decisions are often lengthy and complex. The CPUC is interested in working with the Stanford Law and Policy Lab to consider procedural reforms to promote transparency and efficiency in its decisionmaking. There are three areas of potential procedural reform that the Policy Lab might consider. Which of the areas are selected for study will be decided after discussion between the CPUC, the supervising professor, and students enrolled in the practicum. i) Ex parte communication rules. Ex parte communications between outsiders and PUC decisionmakers are prohibited in adjudicatory cases; permitted in ratemaking cases but must be disclosed; and permitted in rulemaking without disclosure. Some CPUC decisionmakers believe that ex parte communications are essential to enable them to properly consider different points of view and to facilitate timely decisionmaking. Others view such communications as inherently unreliable and as undermining the transparency and accountability of the agency. The CPUC is interested in studying this problem and considering amendments to relevant statutes and regulations. ii) Open Meetings law. The Bagley Keene Act requires the CPUC to conduct open meetings when a quorum of its 5 commissioners meet. Bagley Keene has, in practice, effectively prevented the CPUC from properly managing its operations and engaging in useful deliberation. The CPUC and the Little Hoover Commission are considering whether to seek an amendment to Bagley Keene in order to permit more coordination and collaboration among CPUC Commissioners. iii) Evidence rules. The "residuum rule" requires that on judicial review of an agency decision, the record must contain at least some evidence, other than hearsay, to support the agency's findings and conclusions. A recent court decision has said the CPUC is subject to the residuum rule because it has been declared CPUC policy. A variety of evidence (such as studies by other government agencies) often comprise the underpinning of CPUC decisions and may not come under any hearsay exception. As a result, the residuum rule could compromise the efficiency of CPUC proceedings and risk reversal of future decisions on technical evidentiary grounds. The CPUC is interested in investigating potential solutions for remedying this problem. This practicum will carry two units of credit. It will be supervised by Visiting Professor Michael Asimow. Students will be expected to do field work and legal research and write a paper that makes policy proposals in one or more of the three areas discussed above. Enrollment is limited to three students and will be graded under the H/P/R/F system. Grades will be based on the level of a student's participation and the quality of the final paper. NOTE: Students may not count more than a combined total of eight units of directed research projects and policy lab practica toward graduation unless the additional counted units are approved in advance by the Petitions Committee. Such approval will be granted only for good cause shown. Even in the case of a successful petition for additional units, a student cannot receive a letter grade for more than eight units of independent research (Policy Lab practicum, Directed Research, Senior Thesis, and/or Research Track). Any units taken in excess of eight will be graded on a mandatory pass basis. For detailed information, see "Directed Research/Policy Labs" in the SLS Student Handbook. CONSENT APPLICATION: To apply for this course, students must complete and e-mail the Consent Application Form available on the SLS Registrar's Office website (see Registration and Selection of Classes for Stanford Law Students) to the instructor. See Consent Application Form for submission deadline.

Past Offerings

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