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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Profile of Eric Christensen

This profile of my old friend Eric Christensen was written by Lukas Velush for the Everett (WA) Herald: "How one man took on Enron; Attorney leads fight from Everett."

I've told Eric's story here before, but it's a good one about a small public utility district (PUD) and a giant corporation:
The PUD's gunslinger is Christensen, 42, a country boy from Nampa, Idaho, who dug up the troves of incriminating evidence against Enron that are now helping states across the West fight the bankrupt energy trader....

The PUD's fight with what once was one of the world's largest corporations began when Enron decided that the PUD would be a good source of cash to pay its bankruptcy creditors, PUD leaders said.

Enron sued the PUD in early 2003, claiming that the utility owed it $117 million plus interest (now more than $122 million) for canceling an electricity contract to power 10,000 homes for eight years. Enron also sued utilities in Nevada and California on similar grounds.

Snohomish County PUD canceled the contract just days before Enron filed for bankruptcy in 2002 to avoid getting tangled up in the proceedings.
By now, everyone has heard the "Grandma Millie" and "smoking gun" references on the famous Enron tapes. In the article, Eric refers to some Enron employees as "amazingly arrogant and unguarded," given that they knew they were being recorded:
"What really comes across from the tapes is the level of arrogance and the complete callousness of the impact of what they were doing was having on our ratepayers," Christensen said. "Ruthless is the right word for it."
Eric's feel for PR may be a bit off (and this has long been a problem):
"We didn't anticipate the general outrage that the public would have," Christensen said. "The David versus Goliath story seems to be pretty irresistible."
But, of course, local political leaders have taken note:
In the trenches, Christensen led the fight to obtain 24,000 hours of taped Enron trader phone conversations. The tapes were obtained after a public information request was filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice. Christensen led the effort to transcribe and read through the conversations.

"Eric has done a magnificent job of demonstrating perseverance in the face of tyrannical fraud," said Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash. "His work has helped thousands of people who don't even know his name yet, but they should. He has just been a bulldog on this."
Eric's boss, PUD General Counsel Mike Gianunzio, says some very nice things:
"Eric is pretty much an unsung, quiet guy who's willing to work very hard. He works in the weeds and digs the dirt out," his boss said. "If we hadn't done this stuff, we basically would have had to pay Enron, and they would have gotten away with that fraud."
One of Eric's PUD colleagues, energy consultant Robert McCullough also provides a glowing job review:
McCullough said Christensen has been a secret assassin in the fight against Enron.

"Frankly, I don't think they [Enron] thought anyone from the PUD would be that good," he said. "They must have thought, 'Those funny people in the Northwest are making noise, but they're stupid and no one will ever listen to them."
It wasn't quite that bad when Kansas University was debating against Harvard or Dartmouth...but let's just say Eric has been through these seemingly lopsided battles before.

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