Last week, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw threw out a criminal conviction against San Diego Gas and Electric and two of its employees, who were charged with violating safety standards while removing asbestos from a Lemon Grove (CA) site seven years ago.
According to an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, the judge said his reason for the reversal was that government investigators used “incorrect methods” to collect and test the asbestos samples presented to jurors.
“The court is persuaded a serious miscarriage of justice occurred,” Sabraw wrote in a ruling released last Friday. Attorneys in the case were ordered to return to court Dec. 21 to set a new trial date.
Attorneys for SDG&E were delighted with the ruling, especially since the company was facing a fine of $2 million after being convicted in July of three counts of improperly removing asbestos and one count of making a false statement.
In addition, David Williamson, an SDG&E environmental specialist, and Kyle Rhuebottom, a contractor working for SDG&E, were each convicted of one count of improperly disposing of asbestos. They faced up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. A third worker was acquitted during the July court hearings.
In his ruling, Sabraw said government inspectors shouldn’t have tested samples of debris that came from a stripping machine that removed the asbestos from the pipes, which once stored natural gas.
“That wasn’t representative of the material found at the site,” the judge said, noting that twelve of the 18 samples presented at trial came from debris.