After OIC scandal Spokesman-Review endorses Sen. Padden’s efforts to ensure judicial independence

Feb 23, 2015

After the scandal at the Office of the Insurance Commissioner, Sen. Mike Padden’s bill is vital reform to bring greater safeguards and independence to the state’s administrative judicial system. So says the editorial board of the Spokesman-Review

“Administrative law courts are an important venue for resolving all manner of complaints against the state, and they are busy. Administrative Law Judges held 69,000 hearings last year.

But they work largely below the radar of the public and the media. A few are housed within the agency that would be affected by their decision, and their findings are subject to an override by the agency head. The potential for compromises of process and outcome are obvious, and it was that 2014 case involving Seattle Children’s Hospital and the Office of Insurance Commissioner that finally attracted the Legislature’s attention.

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, has introduced SB 6019, which will put more “blind” into administrative justice. It deserves quick legislative approval.

The bill’s most important provisions make decisions final, and clarify what contacts outside the hearing room between judges and parties to the case are appropriate.

If SB 6019 passes, rulings made by other ALJs will not be subject to review by agency heads. Challenges will have to be taken to county superior courts. They may not be welcome there, but those are the proper venues.

To prevent retaliation by resentful agency heads, the proposed legislation also says adverse rulings should not figure into employee evaluations.

No one testified against SB 6019 on Wednesday, and the Law & Justice Committee chaired by Padden moved the bill on to the Rules Committee on Thursday morning.

Because these cases rarely draw public attention, the need for absolute transparency in the hearings process is that much more important.

Pass the bill.”