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Insurance Commissioner Convenes Probe Of Whistleblower Complaint Against Its Own

Washington’s Insurance Commissioner is hiring an outside investigator to look into ethics complaints lodged by a hearing officer, and raising questions about the accuser’s own conduct.

Chief presiding officer Patricia Peterson referees disputes that arise at the commissioner’s office. During an especially contentious case, she says the commissioner’s number-two official tried to improperly influence her judgment.

Peterson says chief deputy officer Jim Odiorne contacted her repeatedly about a complaint brought by Seattle Children’s Hospital, and leaned on her to decide in the state’s favor. She asked the state auditor to intervene, but he denied the request. Then the case took a twist: Peterson was suspended a day later and put on paid leave.

Commissioner Mike Kreidler’s office says the leave is related not to her making the whistleblower complaint, but to what happened to it next: Someone anonymously emailed the document to a lawyer for Seattle Children’s, from a computer at an Office Depot in Olympia.

If Peterson shared the complaint with only one party in the ongoing legal dispute, that could itself constitute improper communication. The independent investigator will look into that as well as the merits of her complaint.

Another attorney plans to depose an Office Depot worker next week to find out who had the document sent.

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