COLUMBIA -– A South Carolina circuit court judge has signed an order reducing the legal fees going to lawyers for South Carolina Electric & Gas ratepayers, which means millions of dollars more will go back to the ratepayers, Attorney General Alan Wilson announced Wednesday.
Judge John Hayes signed the order late Tuesday reducing the legal fees from $66 million to $51 million.
The ruling means current and former SCE&G ratepayers will split $146 million in what is considered the largest private class-action settlement in state history, according to an Associated Press report. More than 1 million customers were involved in the lawsuit, represented by 13 law firms.
The attorneys sued SCE&G and parent company SCANA Corp. for its role in the abandoned construction of two nuclear plants in the state that never generated power. Virginia-based Dominion Energy took over the utility in January.
SCE&G agreed to pay $115 million and sell properties valued at $85 million.
The attorneys who argued the case will get $51 million plus nearly $900,000 for expenses.
It's unclear when SCE&G customers will get paid and how much each customer will receive.
Wilson argued for the legal fees to be reduced, citing the fact that his office’s work was the main catalyst for settling the lawsuit and that the state’s work greatly reduced the amount of work that needed to be done by the lawyers for SCE&G ratepayers.
The lawyers for ratepayers originally asked for 5% of the $2.2 billion settlement, or $110 million. The settlement order points out that the lawyers for SCE&G ratepayers stated that they had already reduced their original request to 3%, “and in further consideration of the Attorney General’s comments, Class counsel agreed to further reduce their fee request from 3% of the maximum common benefit of $2.2 billion ($66 million) to $51 million, which is equivalent to 2.318% of the maximum common benefit of $2.2 billion.
This reduction in their fee request of approximately 22.7% is in recognition of the strong advocacy of the Attorney General, and the arguments vigorously advanced by the Objectors. In response to this reduction, the Objectors have withdrawn their objection to the adjusted fee request.”
“We’re glad to see that the judge and the lawyers involved recognized how crucial the work done by the Attorney General’s Office on behalf of ratepayers was in settling this case,” Wilson said. “We fought to get as much money as possible for the ratepayers, and are glad that the legal fees awarded are less than half what was originally requested.”
The settlement order recognized that the Attorney General’s Office’s opinion that the Base Load Review Act was unconstitutional as applied was the key part in settling this case. The BLRA was a law that allowed SCE&G to charge ratepayers for nuclear reactors that were still under construction. When the company abandoned that project, ratepayers had shelled out billions of dollars and gotten nothing in return.