In the spirit of constructiveness, one of the things that we talked about in that first story was that the reporting period in the annual report started in July , even though [it was ]retroactive to January, [and] Judge Dennis Montali had approved $12.5 million or more in fees. I just wonder why that was not included. And is there an opportunity to be maybe more specific with details of which firms are getting how much, and what the individuals at those firms are doing, similar to the kind of reporting that we saw last year before [PG&E’s bankruptcy] confirmation?
I'm the wrong one to ask about that because I wasn't involved in any of that. I became trustee on July 1 . I was a consultant to the TCC early on in 2020. And I was working for [arbitration firm] JAMS at that time and they hired me as a consultant to help figure this out. I would go up to San Francisco and meet with the lawyers and I billed them accordingly for that. When I became trustee, my whole relationship with them changed. I became a salaried employee of the trust. I was no longer billing by the hour. I have a contract with the trust. That happened in July.
The period of time between January or February  and the end of June , there were fees incurred because JAMS billed them for my time at my usual rate, which at that time was $1,500 an hour, an amount that I charged for many years. And how the Trust ended up paying that was something I didn't know anything about. I was not involved in their negotiations with PG&E because I wasn't the trustee yet. But when I became trustee, you reported that I was charging $1,500 an hour, which wasn't true.
I did ask. What is the amount?
It’s $125,000. If you do the math that turns out to be somewhere less than $800 an hour. And that's how we arrived at my fee. It's been constant from the first day until this month. And I have to tell you that I work far more than 40 hours a week. In addition, just so that victims know, there's nobody here that's getting an outrageous [fee]. They may think that it's outrageous. I understand that. But I don't have a secretary. I don't have an assistant. I don't have a dedicated aide. I run everything out of my home. I don't have an office. I don't charge the trust for any of the costs that I incur in doing that from my home. So I've done everything I can reasonably do to be as fair in my pricing as I can, and I am not embarrassed to say that.
Editor's note: KQED's story reporting Trotter's hourly rate was based on this document filed in federal court on April 14, which lists Trotter's hourly rate as $1,500.
Have you thought about being more transparent about your budget?
Yeah. The problem with — as you see, we have 380 people. These are unaudited numbers and some bills are still lingering but in the first six months [of 2021], we spent $46.6 million on overhead. Of that, $35 million was for claims processing. That's a little bit below what our budget was, and going forward, we hope we won’t spend quite as much. But one reason we spent as much as we did was there were a lot of attorneys fees because of the stock [tax] issue. That is now resolved. But in the second half, we have more claims reviewers that we didn’t have in the first half because we didn't need them then. I don't know whether those two balance each other out. We look forward to the second half being a little bit less. So if we come out of the year in the low $90 million range, that’s less than 1% of the [trust's] value, even with the very depressed stock price. I'm very comfortable saying to the fire victims that we are really watching every dollar as carefully as we can. To be able to run this trust, with its multiple problems and issues for under 1%, I think, is pretty good.
One percent overall, or per year?
One percent a year. I mean, it's an ongoing trust.
Can you respond to concerns that the trust may be devaluing determinations because the stock is not performing?
That's not true. We are giving them our best valuation. It's a cross between what would that person get in a jury case and a private settlement. We give a blend of that. We're not discounting it in any way because of the ability to pay. The victims are entitled to know what their claim was worth. It's painful to find out that a claim was worth $1 million but they'll only get $450,000. But at least they're entitled to know what the value of their claim was.
Fire survivor William Abrams has filed a motion with the bankruptcy court asking that members of the Trust Oversight Committee [TOC] issue financial disclosures. We at KQED have [revealed that] at least one major wildfire attorney [Mikal Watts] has taken funding from parties whose interests are at odds with fire victims. Are you aware of this motion?
I am aware of the motion but it really doesn't concern me. This is a Judge Montali issue that I don't have any jurisdiction over. If the Judge feels that Mr. Abrams has made a showing, he'll act accordingly. He has denied this motion a couple of times already. We'll see what he does this time.
Should they sign a disclosure saying they do not have interests that are adverse to their clients'?
I don't have any authority over the TOC. I must consult with them. But I didn't appoint them. I'd never met some of them before. They were appointed by Judge Montali. That's why the motion is to Judge Montali. The motion isn't to me. If they have any conflicts, I don't have any way to know that. So they have to themselves determine whether they have a conflict and respond if Judge Montali asks them to.
As we reported last year, one of the people who sits on the committee [Doug Boxer] is affiliated with Mikal Watts, whom we have shown did take money from a major hedge fund in this case. That's in the public domain.
I assume, if it's in the public domain, Judge Montali knows that.
And that's not troubling to you, it sounds like.
It's not whether it's troubling or not. It doesn't involve me. I'm not here to pass judgment on whether they have a conflict. That's Judge Montali's job. I have lots of other things to do.
How involved is the Trust Oversight Committee in how claims are being determined?
Not at all.
Not at all?
No. There's a bright line — because they all have claims.
Would it be valuable to have members of the TCC who resigned be allowed to speak freely about what happened from their perspective? Do you have any thoughts on that?
I don't, because I wasn't there. I wasn't part of the machinations that went on so I don't know. I think anybody can speak freely now.
Would they face any legal liability if they spoke about what they witnessed that might be disturbing to the public?
I don't have any idea or any comment on that. I don't know. Again, I wasn’t a part of that. I know that there was a lot of heated discussions in those months before the trust became viable.