North Carolina preps legal team to probe Duke/Progress Energy merger

North Carolina utility regulators armed themselves Tuesday with a former federal prosecutor to help investigate whether Duke Energy gave misleading information about its merger with Progress Energy.

Anton R. Valukas, chairman of the Chicago-based law firm of Jenner & Block, will assist the North Carolina Utilities Commission in the investigation the agency opened last month.

Valukas' fees will be billed to Duke, not to customers, the commission said in a statement.

The commission and Duke Energy began amassing legal teams after the North Carolina regulators opened their investigation into why Duke's board fired former Progress CEO Bill Johnson as head of the combined company less than two hours in the new job.

For 18 months, Johnson was slated to lead the merged company going forward. The Duke board replaced him with Duke CEO Jim Rogers because of a "loss of confidence" — a move that shocked regulators, investors, employees and customers.

For its part, Duke hired former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Burley Mitchell and high-powered Charlotte lawyer Jim Cooney. Johnson hired a prominent Raleigh lawyer in Wade Smith.

Edward Finley, chairman of the commission, has said regulators still believe the merger is good for customers and he is open to reaching a settlement in the case.

Tom Williams, a Duke spokesman, on Tuesday said Duke pledges its full cooperation with the commission's investigation.

Ivan Penn can be reached at ipenn@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2332.

North Carolina preps legal team to probe Duke/Progress Energy merger 08/01/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 9:01pm]

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