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OIC Whistleblower Speaks, Says She's Still Muzzled

An administrative law judge who accused the state Office of the Insurance Commissioner of pressuring her to rule in its favor broke her silence Monday, but she told lawmakers she’s not allowed to give them the whole story.

Patricia Petersen appeared before the state Senate Law and Justice Committee. She said she wants to tell the legislators what’s behind her spat with the OIC, including her accusation that the agency’s second-in-command pressured her to rule in the office’s favor.

But Petersen, in her first public comments since lodging a whistleblower complaint against her boss, said the commissioner gave her a gag order on the matter while it’s being investigated.

So instead, Petersen spoke in general about the merits and drawbacks of having hearings officers work for the very agencies they sometimes rule on. She said there are benefits, including the development of deep expertise on the matters they must adjudicate.

“However, the benefits of embedded hearing officers quickly disappear if an agency seeks to influence the presiding officer with ex parte communications and influences such as threats to employment,” she said at a Senate committee work session.

Ex-parte communications are forbidden contacts between an officer like Petersen and parties to the case. The committee has proposed a bill to make that kind of conduct a crime.

Petersen herself is accused of prohibited communications for sending her whistleblower complaint to one of the lawyers involved in a case before her. She said that was an inadvertent mistake. An investigation of that claim is expected to finish next month.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.