California News Brief: New CA Dept. of Insurance Brass

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Workers Comp Executive

California’s new insurance commissioner, John Garamendi, last month announced his appointments to his executive staff. The commissioner, who is reprising the role he played between 1990 and 1994, is bringing in a management group that includes people from various circles of public life.

Garamendi also announced a change in the management structure at the Department of Insurance. Garamendi said that he’s creating a new Department division called the Operations Branch, comprised of Administration & Licensing Services, Consumer Services and Market Conduct, the Fraud Division, and a newly created “Investigation” Division (formerly known as the “Investigations Bureau.”). He appointed Ida Zodrow, who served on his management staff during his first four-year stint in office, to head the Operations Branch.

He’s also appointed Gary Cohen as general counsel. Cohen served as General Counsel to the California Public Utilities Commission since March 2001. His appointment surprised consumer activist Harvey Rosenfield’s Foundation for Taxpayer & Consumer Rights, which asserts that Cohen during the energy crisis helped bail out Southern California Edison on the backs of California consumers.

As general counsel Cohen headed up the PUC‘s legal strategy in response to the energy crisis as well as the insolvencies that threatened the state’s largest utilities, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Southern California Edison. The Foundation says Cohen circumvented the will of the Legislature when he engineered a $3.5 billion bailout for Southern California Edison in its bankruptcy. Much of that will be paid for by Edison‘s customers, according to Doug Heller of the Foundation.

“It baffles us that he’d be appointed as chief counsel for the Department of Insurance,” says Heller. “Our shock at this is derived largely from the legacy that he’s leaving at the PUC, which was expensive for California consumers. He doesn’t have a history as an ardent defender of consumer interests in other legal environments either.”

Heller was referring to the rest of Cohen’s resume. Before taking the job with the PUC, Cohen worked at Keker & Van Nest, and spent much of his legal career practicing white-collar-crime defense work, according to published reports.

Garamendi is bringing back Zodrow as assistant chief deputy of operations. A career bureaucrat, Zodrow most recently served on the cabinet of Washington’s governor Gary Lock as administrator of the State of Washington Health Care Authority.

His deputy commissioner of external affairs is Pamela J. Neifert, who has worked at the Legislature for more than 21 years. Beverly Hunter will stay in her position as deputy commissioner of policy and planning. Deputy commissioner of communications will be Norman Williams, a former reporter with the Sacramento Bee and most recently assistant secretary for marketing and communications at the California Technology, Trade and Commerce Agency.

Norris Clark, the current deputy commissioner of financial surveillance, has been asked to stay in that position. Garamendi also named Maureen Mason, a 19-year CDI veteran, as deputy commissioner of rate regulation.

Loren Suter will continue to serve as deputy commissioner of administration and licensing services. He too has been a state servant for more than 30 years, including jobs as chief deputy controller of the state controller’s office and deputy director of administration for the Employment Development Department.

Fred Buck has been tapped as the chief executive officer of the conservation and liquidation office. He has worked for the CDI as a special deputy insurance commissioner and a court-appointed trustee. He also has worked in the insurance industry as president of First Capital Life Insurance Co. and chief actuary for Reliance Standard Life Insurance Co.

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