Pinnacol Appeals Judge's Ruling On Pebble Beach Records

Worker's Comp Insurer Claims Information Private Despite Judge's Opinion

Pinnacol Assurance has filed an appeal to a judge's ruling that ordered the worker's compensation insurer turn over receipts and other records from a controversial trip to Pebble Beach.

"It is Pinnacol’s position that the records at issue are not 'public records' as defined by CORA [Colorado Open Records Act], or alternatively, that the records contain information pertaining to individuals who have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such that the records should not be disclosed," said Pinnacol in its appeal.

The court filing addressed two specific questions with respect to Denver District Judge Morris Hoffman's August ruling.

"Whether the district court erred in deciding that the documents regarding a private sales incentive event held in Pinnacol’s capacity as a domestic mutual insurer were made, maintained or kept by Pinnacol for use in the exercise of functions required or authorized by law under CORA, given that Pinnacol’s organic statute requires Pinnacol to operate fully and completely as a domestic mutual insurer, and "Whether the district court erred in concluding that Pinnacol’s board members, spouses, independent agents, and event vendors do not have a legitimate expectation of privacy regarding records of their activities, consumption habits and expenditures at the sales incentive event."

In August, Judge Hoffman ruled that Pinnacol is public and that there was no reason to withhold the records.

“It’s just that the information is embarrassing,” Hoffman said in his August ruling, adding that was Pinnacol’s primary reason for trying to block the information from becoming public.

“Clearly, clearly without any doubt in my mind these are public records,” the judge said.

CALL7 Investigators followed Pinnacol board members, who are appointed by the governor, to the luxury California golf resort in May and showed them accepting expensive hotel rooms, meals and drinks and golf fees costing nearly $500 a round.

Afterward, CALL7 Investigator Tony Kovaleski and 7NEWS requested the details of how much the trip cost.

Despite previously providing similar information, Pinnacol went to court to ask a judge to block release of the records.

Pinnacol attorneys argued that the records are exempt because they would put the worker’s compensation company at a competitive disadvantage if the public could see how it spends money to provide incentives to its independent agents.

Bruce Jones, attorney for 7NEWS, countered that the records were previously produced without any detriment to Pinnacol and that the company was a public state agency so they had to produce the documents.

In August, Hoffman sided with 7NEWS.

In his written ruling, Hoffman said: "For the reasons I articulated from the bench at the end of the hearing held in this case today, I find and conclude that the documents requested by [7NEWS] in their amended Colorado Open Records Act request are public records, and that neither the confidential commercial/financial exception … nor the common law privacy exception has been established by [Pinnacol]."

"Accordingly, [Pinnacol] is hereby ordered to provide the requested documents to [7NEWS]," the judge concluded.

Pinnacol is defined as a "political subdivision of the state" and provides workers compensation insurance to more than 57 percent of the market. It insures 55,000 businesses in Colorado and nearly 1.5 million workers.

In a statement to 7NEWS on Monday, Pinnacol Assurance CEO Ken Ross said, "Pinnacol continues to believe that in light of its statutory mandate to operate as a private mutual insurance company with no financial assistance from, or risk to, the state, this request is improper. Pinnacol is now seeking guidance from the appellate court on the matter.

"The ruling in Denver District Court highlights the contradictory mandate created by the Colorado legislature describing Pinnacol as a political subdivision and then directing it to act as a private insurance company. The ruling requires Pinnacol to disclose records that do not relate to any public function, and do not involve the expenditure of public funds. We believe the ruling is improper, and the release of those records could harm Pinnacol’s competitive position and improperly intrude into the privacy of individuals who attended the event."