But Lara acknowledged last week that he did meet with a CEO whose company has multiple complaints against it in cases before his department.
Lara said he met with CEO
Lara called the
"I meet with CEOs all the time with insurance companies. In the six months that I've been in office, I've met with CEOs, I've met with consumer advocates, I've met with fire victims," Lara said in the interview. "If you're asking me if I met with the CEO of Applied Underwriters, I did. I met with him. It was a casual meeting and nothing in that meeting that came out changed the course of my decision."
His department said the meeting occurred on
During his campaign for the post, Lara had pledged not to take political money from insurers.
Lara and department officials intervened in multiple cases involving Applied Underwriters in recent weeks. The actions included overruling judicial decisions and ordering cases to be reopened, as well as issuing stay orders. The department sent the cases to the courts for a final determination.
On KQED, the Democratic commissioner said his decision to intervene in one case, involving complaints against Applied Underwriters for its workers compensation insurance policies, was done to uphold department precedent. He said the department's goal was to prevent the workers compensation system from failing.
"I did reverse the ruling from the law judge because I wanted it to be consistent with what we've done with my previous predecessor's rulings," Lara said. "Which really got to the point of protecting consumers from, injured workers really, from losing their coverage and from businesses being on the hook for major financial losses."
The department later said Lara wasn't directly involved in the case. On
The meeting and decisions refreshed concerns from the advocacy nonprofit Consumer Watchdog, which has pressed Lara's office to release calendar records of meetings with executives who donated the money in question.
President Jamie Court said the meeting with Menzies raises questions of potential ex parte communication violations because of Lara's quasi-judicial role as commissioner.
"This appears to be, based on his comments, a violation of the ex parte rules because he had a conversation with the party in a pending matter," Court said. "He shouldn't be having that conversation when a pending action was before his department, without notifying the other side and all parties involved. It's like a judge having a conversation with only the defendant and not telling the plaintiff."
Ex parte communications are illegal under
"It is critical to his job to have an open door to talk with insurers. The conversation the commissioner described to KQED was general, and he referred the company to staff to discuss any specific issues," Soller wrote.
Lara also reiterated in his recent interview that he took "immediate action" to return the money and said he plans to stop serving as his own campaign treasurer. He said he also plans to release his calendars.
"My pledge was to not take money from insurers, so when I found out, I immediately returned the money," Lara said. "I put a third party person to make sure we review all checks that come in and I also recused myself from having any decisions regarding this insurance company."
Lara has not said whether he personally knows the donors who contributed the total
"It is important that he meets with all types of stakeholders. It is important that he meets with all types of people and groups who are affected by his decisions," Levinson said. "But imagine a judge was meeting with a litigant whose case he just overturned and ordered reopened. We would all feel deeply uncomfortable with that."
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