State settles with in-house judge for $450K

OLYMPIA — Washington’s insurance commissioner has agreed to pay $450,000 to settle claims brought by an administrative-law judge caught up in a workplace dispute in his office.

The settlement came to light only after The News Tribune and The Olympian filed a public records request.

The newspapers reported that administrative law judge Patricia Petersen left the office at the end of October, after 26 years, as part of the agreement. Petersen had alleged that the insurance commissioner Chief Deputy Jim Odiorne had improperly contacted her and tried to pressure her to decide cases the way Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler wanted.

In mid-May, Kreidler placed Petersen on administrative leave amid concerns she improperly contacted a lawyer for Seattle Children’s Hospital in an ongoing case that dealt with rules adopted by the insurance commissioner’s office. An outside investigator found she had not been truthful initially about her out-of-court contact.

The case has prompted questions about judicial independence in state agencies. Spokane Valley Republican Mike Padden, chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, has indicated he intends to introduce legislation in January dealing with the independence of hearings judges.

Petersen’s lawyers will receive $100,000 of the settlement.

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