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Investors Again File Itron Suit

A second class-action lawsuit has been filed against Itron Inc. alleging the company and several of its officials committed securities fraud.

The complaint filed Wednesday in Spokane County Superior Court echoes a suit filed four months ago in U.S. District Court.

Both claim the Spokane Valley maker of meter-reading devices overstated its technology’s capabilities, in the process artificially inflating the value of its shares.

Investors who purchased Itron stock between Sept. 11, 1995, and Oct. 22, 1996, would be designated members of a class who suffered financial damages as a result of a plunge in share prices from a peak of $60 to a low of $14.50.

The Superior Court complaint notes that Pentzer Corp., a Washington Water Power Co. subsidiary and the largest holder of Itron stock, sold 660,000 shares for prices between $25 and $35 during the designated period. Proceeds totaled $19 million.

WWP is a defendant in the suit, as are Chairman Paul Redmond and Chief Financial Officer Jon Eliassen, as well as Itron President Johnny Humphries.

The lead plaintiff in the case, Oregon resident Katya Haub, bought 300 shares of Itron stock in June and July of 1996 for prices between $31.75 and $35.

The attorney who filed the Superior Court case, Kirk Hulett of San Diego, said Washington law differs from federal law in how it sets burdens of proof and calculates damages.

In revising federal securities law in 1995, for example, Congress required investors to establish more clearly executive intent to issue misleading statements about business prospects.

“It’s an important point,” Hulett said Friday.

As a result, he said, more firms like his own, which specializes in shareholder litigation, are turning to state courts for satisfaction.

Itron spokeswoman Mima Scarpelli said Friday she was unaware of the new lawsuit and had no comment. But she rejected many of the claims of the federal complaint following its filing in May.

In a July 28 motion to have the federal suit dismissed, Itron said the investor who filed the complaint had failed to produce information that would show company officials were trying to conceal difficulties with its technology or relationships with its customers.

, DataTimes

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