4th District Sen. Mike Padden, chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, announced last week that the interim committee work session scheduled for June 16 will now include a discussion of the independence of hearing officers at state agencies. The topic was added in response to a recent whistleblower complaint filed by a hearing officer at the Office of Insurance Commissioner, based on her claims that she was improperly pressured by a senior official at the OIC to decide a high profile case in favor of the agency.
Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said that the claims made by Chief Presiding Officer Patricia Petersen raise serious concerns that should be investigated and resolved.
“I take the allegations made by Ms. Petersen seriously,” said Padden. “The role of an administrative judge in this system is to be an independent arbiter of facts in disputes between the agency and the private sector. The independence of administrative judges is even more important, given the sweeping impact of the Affordable Care Act.”
Padden also voiced concerns about the OIC response to the allegations, which have included Petersen being pulled from cases and put on paid administrative leave, and becoming the target for investigation herself.
“I am troubled by the appearance of retribution against Ms. Petersen,” said Padden. “Our state employees must be able to report wrongdoing – especially violations of law – when they see it, without fear that they will be punished or unfairly singled out for retribution.
“If the allegations made by Petersen prove to be true, they must be addressed. The Law and Justice Committee has an obligation to examine whether there are adequate protections in current law for hearing officers. To do otherwise would risk eroding public confidence in the resolution process, leading to more and lengthier litigation.”
In addition to examining the independence of administrative judges, the June 16 interim work session topics will also include “Abuse by Clergy,” “Separation of Powers” and “Sealing of Court Records.”