The city of Los Angeles' already shaky budget outlook took a potentially ominous turn Tuesday after a judge ruled that the Department of Water and Power intentionally overcharged other government agencies for electricity for nearly two decades, the Los Angeles Times reports.

In a decision issued late Monday after a six-week trial, San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge John P. Wade held that the massive city utility must pay nearly $224 million in damages for its illegal conduct.

"The court finds that the DWP and the city have, for many years, since at least 1988, intentionally ignored the plain language" of the California Government Code and failed to determine how much it should legally charge, Wade wrote in his ruling.

The judge also criticized "the lack of a sense of responsibility to good government exhibited" by the city and the DWP.

Ron Deaton, the DWP's general manager, said all the plaintiffs "have benefited from electricity rates that are far below those charged to other government entities by investor-owned utilities across the state. We believe these extremely favorable rates were fair and appropriate and in full compliance with the law."

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