Legal eagle eyes PGE deal
- Kristina Brenneman
- Portland Tribune - News
Attorney Ann Fisher dogs utility maneuvers on behalf of building owners
After leaked confidential documents disclosed last week that the Texas Pacific Group plans massive cuts after its purchase of Portland General Electric, the investment firm apparently has singled out Ann Fisher as the person responsible for the leak.
Texas Pacific attorney Lisa Rackner sent an e-mail to Fisher, the attorney for the Portland Building Owners and Managers Association, warning her that if the source of the disclosure is determined, Oregon Electric Co., the holding firm set up by Texas Pacific to attempt to buy PGE, 'will pursue all available legal remedies, including requesting a formal investigation by the Oregon State Bar Association.'
The hard-nosed Fisher Ñ unexpectedly at the center of the PGE storm Ñ then e-mailed the letter to practically everyone she knows in the utility industry.
'She's not going to take that lying down,' said the Public Power Council's manager, Jerry Leone, who is a friend of Fisher's.
Texas Pacific spokesman John Mangan said four parties were given the confidential documents on the PGE deal. Fisher, it turns out, was the only person of the four who received Rack-ner's threatening letter.
Passing on confidential documents to reporters is not Fisher's style, she said. 'I tend to be blunt, not secretive.'
So who did it? She doesn't know.
'Their intent is to distract,' she said of Texas Pacific's reaction to the leaked documents. 'That's wrong. It makes it seem inappropriate to have the public see those documents. I thought they should have been released.'
As BOMA's attorney, the 56-year-old Fisher has publicly taken the Oregon Public Utility Commission to task several times in the past month. First, for rushing ahead with its PGE review without waiting for results of a state investigation into Texas Pacific's questionable investment in state pension funds.
Then, during hearings on the PGE sale, she challenged Public Utility Commissioner Ray Baum Ñ a former law school classmate Ñ over whether Texas Pacific's power trumped that of state regulators.
And, notably, Fisher filed a legal motion with the PUC just a week ago demanding that the PUC release the confidential documents Ñ outlining staff and capital spending cuts at PGE Ñ that had been leaked to a Willamette Week reporter.
The PUC will consider the motion today.
'She has a willingness to be more confrontative than Oregon usually is,' said city Commissioner Erik Sten. 'She's the one who stepped out and said, 'We should wait until this investigation is finished.' She hasn't shied away from really going after what needs to be done.'
Cuts are made confidential
Fisher's client, BOMA, also was 'offended' by the ad campaign mounted by Texas Pacific's holding company, which said it would keep its headquarters here, said Bob Jenks, executive director of the Citizens Utility Board of Oregon.
David Hamilton, a BOMA director and vice president at Norris & Stevens, wonders why other organizations haven't stepped forward.
'We're looking at what we pay for power,' he said. 'It's not against PGE; it's for all of us.'
Fisher believes the Texas Pacific papers, which detail proposed 50 percent cuts in power generation spending and a 26 percent reduction of PGE staff, should not have been secret in the first place.
Nor was it a surprise to Fisher, who has a background in bankruptcy and finance law, that Texas Pacific would expect a 38.4 percent return on PGE. She calculated that the return broke down to 10 percent from the utility's earnings, 10 percent from unpaid state and federal taxes, and the rest from tax write-offs.
Texas Pacific Partner Kelvin Davis repeatedly has said his firm would pay its taxes and do nothing 'to impact customers.'
A decision on the PGE sale is expected in the next few weeks.
Fisher's emergence on this scene is no surprise to her colleagues. Married at 17, the Reading, Pa., native had three kids before she finished her undergraduate degree at Oregon State University. In 1980, the loss of her 8-month-old son to cancer brought on a midlife crisis. It led her to Willamette University College of Law, where she graduated in 1983.
'If a baby can die, you think, 'If I died tomorrow, would I be satisfied with how I've spent my own life?' ' Fisher recalled. 'I don't know.'
At Willamette, she found she 'loved the law, much like I do electricity.'
Fisher started at Lane Powell Spears Lubersky, before moving on to PGE in 1989 and Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt in 1994. She launched her own firm, AF Legal & Consulting Services, in 1996, and despite the workload has yet to hire an assistant.
Building owners make move
The building owners group hired Fisher in 1999 to lobby on behalf of its members for more protection under energy deregulation. Deregulation 'hasn't turned out well for most customers,' she said, which is why BOMA initially supported a new buyer for PGE when Enron put the utility up for sale.
Fisher's path has crossed nearly every power player in town, from Wally Gibson at the Northwest Power Council to energy consultant Robert McCullough. Although she can come across as soft-spoken, 'she's a pit bull when it comes to representing her clients,' Leone said. 'She's very definitive. She doesn't cut people any slack.'
Because of her boldness, Assistant U.S. Attorney Allen Garten said Fisher has had a legal career 'that doesn't quite match her skill. I don't think she's achieved the success I think she's earned.'
Maybe now, said Garten, who has known Fisher since 1990, it's her time to shine.