In the absence of justice, what is sovereignty but organized robbery?
– St. Augustine
The citizens of the midlands and low country of South Carolina were the victims of an organized robbery when the General Assembly passed the Base Load Review Act in 2007. That statute allowed two of the largest power companies in South Carolina, SCE&G and Santee Cooper, to fleece its customers of billions of dollars for the doomed-to-fail nuclear power plant project. Recent developments have given all of the customers of these power companies hope that full justice will be finally done.
The Law Offices of Jason E. Taylor was proud to join with other law firms in South Carolina to fight for justice for those customers and bring justice where it was denied by the law itself. We were able to prevail despite long odds. SCE&G’s parent company, SCANA, was the largest corporation based in South Carolina. SCANA had millions of dollars at its disposal to fund litigation. SCANA hired some of the largest law firms in the Southeast which filed lengthy and complicated motions seeking the dismissal of the case. Our law firm joined with firms all over South Carolina (and some out of the state) and were able to counter the motions with detailed memorandum. Some lawyers—even some of the most experienced plaintiffs’ lawyers in our state—said that our group was crazy for even trying to tackle these two giants in litigation.
The case the Law Offices of Jason E. Taylor filed in federal court included a cause of action under a federal statute called Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations or more commonly by its acronym “RICO.” RICO was passed in 1970 and has a more famously has a criminal component that was used by the United States Department of Justice in targeting the mafia. Prior to RICO, prosecutors could only try mob-related crimes individually. Since different mobsters perpetrated each crime, the government could only prosecute individual criminals instead of shutting down an entire criminal organization. Today, the government rarely uses RICO against the Mafia. Instead, because the law is so broad, both governmental and civil parties use it against all sorts of enterprises, both legal and illegal.
Our office used RICO to challenge the legality of the actions of SCANA and Santee Cooper in how the nuclear project was organized and managed. The initial discovery that was produced in a related state action detailed the difference between what the corporate officials were saying publicly versus what these same officials were telling what each other were saying in private. The private correspondence told the story of a project that was off target and out of control. Ultimately, the case against both SCANA and Santee Cooper were settled and the court approved a series of refunds/credits that were to be paid back to the customers. These payments represented the best result possible without needing much more expensive litigation or causing either company to become bankrupt.
Now the civil process if mostly over, the criminal process is beginning for the former corporate officials that presided over this billion dollar boondoggle. SCANA’s former Chief Executive Order, Kevin Marsh, and SCANA’s former Chief Operating Officer, Steve Byrne, have pleaded guilty to fraud and fraud related charges for their role in the debacle. Hopefully, there will be more indictments and pleas to follow.
Remain vigilant always
All of the citizens of the State of South Carolina—including the customers of SCANA and Santee Cooper—have learned a painful lesson in this experience. We all need to be vigilant to the activities of our legislature and examine thoroughly the legislation that is under consideration.