Telecom Board infighting unleashes unprecedented lawsuit linked to IPTV dispute
The tension that has been brewing in recent months among the Telecommunications Regulatory Board members over Puerto Rico Telephone/Claro’s cable franchise license petition escalated another notch late last week, when two agency members sued Associate Member Nixyvette Santini in San Juan Superior Court.
In the unprecedented 18-page lawsuit obtained Tuesday by this media outlet, agency President Sandra Torres and Associate Member Gloria Escudero pitted against Santini, asking the court to issue a preliminary and permanent injunction to prevent her — or any agency official — from divulging any information shielded by confidentiality and attorney-client privilege rules.
At the crux of the petition is a dissident opinion that Santini issued in November 2011, reacting to certain decisions by Torres and Escudero regarding PRT/Claro’s franchise license petition, originally submitted in February 2008. The petition snowballed into a three-year battle between the carrier and its would-be cable industry competitors, who took the matter through multiple legal forums.
Ultimately, the courts reverted the case back to the TRB, which in August 2011 held a public hearing — that became heated in several instances — to obtain additional information. In late October, the agency drafted and approved a license agreement that included a string of conditions to ensure competitive fairness.
However, a few days after the order was released, the majority members headed by Torres made the self-determination to revoke it, saying it was “illegal” and lacked consensus.
A new order, with different conditions, was re-issued Nov. 17, unleashing Santini’s scathing dissenting opinion in which she said, among other things, that Torres had acted in an irregular manner.
Attempts to reach Torres were unsuccessful late Tuesday.
One dissenting order after another
In the lawsuit, plaintiffs Torres and Escudero also told the court that after Santini filed her dissenting opinion in which she revealed details of the agency’s decision-making process, she was asked to withdraw it and revise it to exclude that information they claimed breached confidentiality clauses protecting internal agency proceedings.
Far from withdrawing her opinion, Santini went on to issue two more dissenting documents that the agency has not accepted for the record. In her defense, Santini said dissenting opinions are not covered by confidentiality clauses, as they are part of the administrative decision-making process.
News is my Business consulted with several sources on this matter, who agreed that what the majority members are trying to do is to “censure Santini. The confidentiality issue cannot apply to the members because then they would have no way to correct the public record.”
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs further told the court that it is Santini’s intention to continue disclosing “confidential and privileged” Board information, pressing for the injunction.
“It’s evident…that Santini has no intention to protect the confidentiality of the legal opinions that the Board requests and obtains as part of the general handling of its affairs, which are protected by attorney-client privilege and thus protected from disclosure by its members, absent an express waiver of the Board,” the document in which Torres and Escudero seek the injunction stated.
San Juan Superior Court Judge Giselle Romero García, who held a hearing on the matter Monday, is handling the case. Her decision was not available Tuesday, so it remained unclear whether she had granted the injunction. The next hearing is scheduled for May 28, News is my Business learned.
Because this case is separate from PRT/Claro’s cable franchise request, it should not affect its plans to move ahead with launching islandwide Internet Protocol TV services.