Power company lawyer also chief of grid

The Associated Press
Thursday September 19, 2002

FOLSOM — Critics say the head of the agency that manages most of California’s power grid could have a conflict of interest because he also serves as attorney for a company that does millions of dollars of business with the grid operator. 

San Francisco lawyer Michael Kahn is chief of the California Independent System Operator, and also is handling a case in U.S. District Court for software developer ABB, a Swiss firm whose energy management programs are used by utilities and grid operators around the country. 

Kahn did not have any direct participation with ABB when he was named ISO chairman but now represents the company in a court battle over proprietary information it claims two previous employees misused. 

The suit mentions ABB’s history with the ISO numerous times, including its importance in fostering ABB’s technological expertise and ABB’s upgrades to ISO’s system to improve control over the state’s power supply. 

Deborah Rhode, who teaches ethics at Stanford University’s law school, said Kahn’s relationship could be in violation of state ethics laws. 

But Daniel Lowenstein, a UCLA law professor, said that depends on whether Kahn has an economic interest in ABB’s dealings with the agency. 

“If he does, then he is required to disqualify himself from any decisions that affect these entities,” he said. 

Kahn said he was his firm’s only available attorney to take the ABB case. He told the San Francisco Chronicle he has no idea what ABB’s contracts are with the ISO.