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Concerns About Potential Conflict of Interest in CA Cell-Phone Warning Case

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Thursday, September 29, 2016   

BERKELEY, Calif. — Allegations have surfaced that a judge in the case against Berkeley's cell phone warning ordinance has ties to the wireless industry.

CTIA, the wireless industry trade group (formerly the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association), is challenging a law that requires stores to post information on proper cell phone use so that radiation exposure doesn’t exceed federal guidelines.

The case was heard in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco in mid-September by a three-member panel that included Judge Michelle Friedland, whose husband, Daniel Kelly, is allegedly an engineer with wireless company Tarana.

According to Ellen Marks, director of the California Brain Tumor Association, Friedland may have had a conflict of interest because Tarana's significant investor is AT&T - a CTIA member that could have a major stake in the outcome of the case.

"If Berkeley prevails, his job could be at risk,” Marks said. "They might have financial implications from this, and if the CTIA prevails, they have a lot to gain from this."

The CTIA has claimed that Berkeley's ordinance violates free speech. Berkeley has countered that the required postings were simply guidelines directly from the cell-phone manuals, warning that people who carry a cell phone close to the body may exceed federal guidelines on exposure to radio-frequency radiation.

A spokesman for the 9th Circuit confirmed that Kelly works in the telecom industry, but said Judge Friedland herself would not comment. Calls to Mr. Kelly and to Tarana were not returned.

Marks said the case is significant because many other cities have expressed an interest in similar ordinances, and some have received letters from the CTIA threatening litigation.

San Francisco has been working to pass a similar law, and City Supervisor John Avalos said that if the allegations are true, Friedland should have disclosed this possible link.

"If there's any hint of such a relationship between her partner and such work within a telecommunications company, she should disqualify herself,” Avalos said.

The court has the case under consideration but has not yet issued a ruling. Berkeley's legal team has the option to file a complaint alleging conflict of interest, but has not done so thus far.



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