The State Auditor’s Office has declined to investigate a whistleblower complaint by the Office of the Insurance Commissioner’s administrative-law judge, who alleged that she has been improperly contacted and pressured by the OIC’s chief deputy on cases before her.
In a letter to the insurance office’s Chief Presiding Officer Patricia Petersen, the auditor’s whistleblower manager, Jim Brownell, said there are other avenues for Petersen to address her assertion of improper contact.
The SAO, in the letter, also said that since it has declined to investigate, the anonymity conferred on her as a whistleblower is removed. Therefore, it said, her “identity and assertions are not confidential,” and will be publicly released.
Petersen’s job description includes independently ruling on cases before her, which currently include a hotly contested issue involving whether insurers must include Seattle Children’s hospital in their provider networks.
In the whistleblower complaint, and in a filing in the case before her, Petersen alleged that OIC Chief Deputy Jim Odiorne had improperly contacted her and tried to pressure her to decide cases the way Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler wanted.
As a judge, Petersen follows court rules that ban one-sided “ex parte” contact in ongoing cases. She said she has never received any improper contact or pressure directly from Kreidler. And until she began hearing from Odiorne last fall as she was hearing a similar network-adequacy case, she wrote, she had never been pressured by anyone in the OIC to decide cases in a certain way.
In a pre-hearing conference last week, a lawyer in the case before her said he had been sent anonymously a copy of her whistleblower complaint, which he had shared with the other lawyers. The lawyers then discussed the possibility that they would have to ask Petersen to recuse herself from the case.
The insurance office says Odiorne has not been directly involved in the cases and, as her supervisor, is allowed to talk with her. Insurance office spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis said the OIC would hire an outside investigator to look into who sent the whistleblower complaint to the lawyer. Asked who would investigate Petersen’s allegations, Marquis said that would be an “internal investigation.”
Petersen, 61, has been conducting hearings and deciding cases that come before the Office of the Insurance Commissioner for 28 years, the past 19 as chief presiding officer. She was reappointed by Kreidler 10 years ago.