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Jury Sides With Fired N.M. Official

By Bill Rodgers, Albuquerque Journal, N.M.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Jan. 22--SANTA FE -- A state District Court jury has found that Aaron Feliciano was fired in August 2009 from the Insurance Division of the Public Regulation Commission in violation of the state's Whistleblower Protection Act.

They awarded him $279,626 in lost wages and $75,719 in lost benefits on Friday. Feliciano's attorney, Bryan Davis, said the damages are doubled under the whistleblower law. On top of that, Davis said Feliciano would be awarded attorney fees, which he estimated were close to $250,000.

Judge Raymond Ortiz told the jury this was the first whistleblower protection case in the state to go to trial.

Santa Fe County Commissioner Daniel Mayfield, a defendant in the suit stemming from his past tenure as chief of staff at PRC, declined to comment other than to say he respected the jury's decision.

Feliciano's ex-supervisor, former Insurance Superintendent Morris Chavez, now a private attorney in Albuquerque, said he was disappointed but he respected the jury's decision and he looked forward to an appeal. Chavez resigned in 2010 following criticism over his approval of a premium raise for some Blue Cross Blue Shield customers.

Feliciano was a former compliance director. He alleged he was fired in retaliation for speaking out about improper acts to Chavez, Mayfield and PRC commissioners. He also sent an email to the state Attorney General's Office after he could not get help internally.

The issues he raised included allegations that Chavez pressured Feliciano to hire one of Chavez's friends, who was not qualified for the position. Feliciano also alleged that he expressed concern that the commission's legal division was failing to extract monetary penalties from insurance companies and agents who violated the insurance code.

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(c)2013 the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.)

Visit the Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, N.M.) at www.abqjournal.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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