Judge to Hear More Arguments in Consumer Watchdog Public Records Case

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - After listening to arguments in Consumer Watchdog's legal action against California Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara and the Department of Insurance, a judge did not immediately rule on the organization's claim that the defendants failed to produce records related to an alleged pay-to-play situation involving insurance companies with business pending before the agency.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff said at the conclusion of Friday's proceeding that he will hear more arguments on a date he will set later.

Consumer Watchdog's petition was brought in February 2020 under the California Public Records Act, seeking records of communications and meetings with "any individuals employed by or representing" the companies involved in the alleged pay-to-play. The group alleges the department failed to search for the records.

In their court papers, lawyers for the Attorney General's Office state that the Insurance Department "relied on the names of the individuals and insurance companies provided by (Consumer Watchdog) in its CPRA requests at issue in this proceeding and conducted an adequate search to locate and produce responsive records."

Consumer Watchdog's court papers state that Lara initially pledged not to accept insurance company contributions, but that in early 2019 people linked to workers' compensation insurer Applied Underwriters and another company, IHC, contributed $53,400 to Lara's 2022 re-election fund.

Some of the contributions were made in the name of relatives of insurance company executives, allegedly to hide their true source in violation of campaign finance and money laundering laws, according to the organization's court papers.

Consumer Watchdog filed two CPRA requests with the department, seeking communications and meeting records involving individuals "employed by or representing" the insurance companies involved in the alleged impropriety.

Some records were turned over, but others were not and no adequate explanation was given by the department for withholding them, resulting in the filing of the petition asking that the department be ordered to "search for and produce all responsive records," according to the Consumer Watchdog court papers.

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