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A federal judge today overturned convictions for San Diego Gas & Electric Co., an SDG&E employee and a contracted worker, stemming from charges that they mishandled the cleanup of asbestos-containing pipes under a site in Lemon Grove. (Read our coverage of the history of the site and its cleanup.)

“The Court is persuaded a serious miscarriage of justice occurred,” U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw wrote in his ruling.

The judge criticized the evidence federal prosecutors had presented to the jury, saying that tests on the pipes had been conducted under “methods of debatable validity.” The way the evidence was presented to the jury “caused unfair prejudice and confusion of issues,” the judge wrote.

Defendants in the case were SDG&E; David Joseph “Willy” Williamson, an SDG&E employee; and Kyle Rheubottom, a private contractor. Jacquelyn McHugh, another SDG&E employee initially charged, was acquitted this summer.

The remaining defendants had appealed a July jury conviction.

Christy Heiser, an SDG&E spokeswoman, said this afternoon the company is “thrilled” about the new trial and reiterated the company’s stance that the case is without merit.

Debra Hartman, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

John Gonzalez, who lives down the street from the site, has been canvassing his neighborhood to find willing homeowners to join a class action civil suit after the government’s case wrapped up. He hadn’t heard yet about the ruling when I called him this afternoon for his take.

“I’m really pretty numb about it right now, I don’t really have a reaction,” he said. “We’re still looking at suing. To us, it’s pretty plain.”

The parties will next meet in court for a status hearing Dec. 21.

KELLY BENNETT

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