OK Corporation Commission To Hear Arguments In 26-Year-Old AT&T Case

Monday, November 2nd 2015, 4:40 pm
By: News 9

A 26-year-old rate case could get tossed out, forcing the repayment of billions of dollars to AT&T customers. That's what is potentially at stake in a hearing Tuesday morning before the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

The special hearing, scheduled at 10 a.m. in room 301, comes in response to the latest request for relief from the Corporation Commission's 1989 approval of Southwestern Bell's (now part of AT&T) rate request -- PUD 260. By a 2-1 vote, commissioners allowed the telecommunications company to reinvest excess revenues, realized in the wake of a 1987 corporate tax cut, rather pass them all along to customers.

In the early 1990s, an FBI investigation determined that one of the commissioners who voted "yes," Bob Hopkins, had accepted a bribe from William Anderson, an attorney for SWB, in exchange for the affirmative vote. Both men were convicted and served time.

The tainted approval of PUD 260 led to several failed attempts by Commissioner Bob Anthony, the most recent in 2010 before the state Supreme Court, to have the case reopened. Anthony was elected to the Commission in 1988, was the lone "no" vote in PUD 260, and assisted in the bribery investigation.

Last year, the case again landed before the Oklahoma Supreme Court, this time in the form of a class-action lawsuit brought on behalf of AT&T customers by Nichols Hills Mayor Sody Clements, a former Corporation Commission employee, and by retired Lt. Gen. Richard Burpee, former commander of the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center at Tinker Air Force Base.

At the time, the plaintiffs claimed years worth of overpayments and interest added up to more than $14 billion that AT&T should have to repay.

In September 2014, the Court declined to review the case, saying it did not have jurisdiction.

As a result, Clements and Burpee decided to seek relief in the place where the case originated; the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. They have been joined in this current action by several others, including Edmond police Chief Bob Ricks.

Ricks was the FBI's Special Agent in Charge for Oklahoma City at the time of the bribery investigation. They now claim the amount owed to qualifying AT&T customers is up to $16 billion.

The motion filed with OCC seeks to set aside the 1989 settlement and reopen the case.

The commissioners will also hear two motions to dismiss; one filed by state Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who also stood with AT&T last year in the Supreme Court case, and the other by AT&T Oklahoma.

Pruitt has argued that reopening a case that is almost 30 years old would not serve the best interests of the public. AT&T argues for dismissal, stating that arguments similar to those being brought now have been heard several times before, by both the Corporation Commission and the Supreme Court, and in all instances have been rejected.

In addition, AT&T disputes the amount of any proposed refund. Company officials have said, at most, it would be $30 million, plus interest.

A spokesman for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission says the commissioners will hear arguments on all the motions Tuesday, but are unlikely to make any immediate decision.