As CPS Energy names interim general counsel, it says outside lawyer tab to hit $10 million this year – About Your Online Magazine


Days after CPS Energy’s top lawyer and two of his deputies resigned, the utility on Thursday appointed an interim general counsel — and revealed that it expects to spend about $10 million this year on outside lawyers.

Private-sector lawyers are representing CPS in lawsuits against 17 natural gas companies and the Texas power grid operator over February winter storm bills.

The legal battle, which the CPS CEO on Thursday described as “monumental,” is an effort to avoid an estimated $1 billion in debt stemming from the historic freeze.

At least in the meantime, the campaign will be led on the CPS side by Shanna Ramirez, former vice president of the dealership who was promoted to general counsel.

She was elevated after former general counsel Carolyn Shellman suddenly submitted her resignation letter last week after working at CPS since 2006. Her last day at the dealership will be Wednesday, according to a CPS spokeswoman.

Former deputy general counsel Abigail Ottmers and Zandra Pulis also resigned last week. Their last day was last Friday.

“I have a lot of respect for the lawyers who are leaving and those who have stayed,” Ramirez said on Thursday. “We are continuing what we started and this is to protect the interests of our customers and our community.”

It is unclear why the lawyers resigned, and CPS officials sought to minimize the trio’s departure.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg hears a presentation during a CPS Energy board meeting on Monday at the company's headquarters in downtown San Antonio.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg hears a presentation during a CPS Energy board meeting on Monday at the company’s headquarters in downtown San Antonio.

Robin Jerstad, Freelance / San Antonio Express News

“It’s not the first time people have left an organization,” said CEO Paula Gold-Williams. “In every function in the executive ranks, we plan for succession all the time. Sometimes the speed is extreme, like in this case. Sometimes you have more time. ”

After a special board meeting on Tuesday, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said outside law firms that CPS has hired – not the utility’s in-house lawyers – are handling most litigation against natural gas suppliers and the gas operator. power grid, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas.

“The CPS has a very strong caucus, so the matches won’t affect day-to-day operations, nor will CPS’s storm-related litigation,” said Nirenberg, who is one of five administrators at the municipal utility.

If the CPS loses in court, it will be forced to pass on $1 billion in fees to San Antonio taxpayers, likely resulting in higher monthly bills for years or even decades. A loss could also mean that CPS would keep the legal fees for those the utility has sued.

Ramirez joined CPS in 2015 after working as a legal advisor for Fiesta Restaurant Group, the parent company of Taco Cabana. She also worked at the Haynes and Boone corporate law firm after graduating from the University of Maryland with a law degree.

While outside law firms are working on the litigation, Ramirez said, she will have a “huge amount” of involvement.

“The in-house lawyer really works as a liaison between the company itself and our outside lawyer who is really helping us advance all of our interests,” she said.

Gold-Williams estimated that CPS will spend about $10 million this year on the three outside law firms it has hired. The dealership contracted international firm Dentons as well as Scott Douglass & McConnico of Austin and San Antonio Chasnoff firm Mungia, Valkenaar, Pepping and Stribling.

CPS Energy will promote Fred Bonewell to COO.

CPS Energy to Promote Fred Bonewell

to the chief operating officer.

Courtesy: CPS Energy /

“It’s one of the most monumental legal strategies we’ve ever implemented,” said Gold-Williams.

She called legal fees “an investment”.

“If you make a $10 investment and save $1,000, that’s what we’re doing here,” she said.

The expected cost of the CPS legal fight is 10 times what the City of San Antonio has budgeted to spend on outside lawyers each year for the past five. In a category titled “professional fees and services” – which includes outside counsel, professional studies and other expenses – the city each year since 2017 has budgeted just over $1 million.

Paula Fonseca