Pinnacol Must Turn Over Pebble Beach Expense Records

Insurance Firm's Attempt To Block Records Disclosure Fails

A Denver judge ruled that Pinnacol Assurance must turn over records of a controversial trip to Pebble Beach that 7NEWS requested under state open records laws.

Denver District Judge Morris 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, 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, 7NEWS requested the details of how much the trip cost. Yet, 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.

Hoffman sided with 7NEWS.

"I felt that the judge was very thoughtful and thorough in his ruling from the bench," said Jeff Harris, News Director for 7NEWS. "He left no stone unturned."

"He said the Open Records Act is vital and that it applies to Pinnacol," Harris said.

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.

Hoffman also said that board members have no expectation of privacy on the trips and that Pinnacol should go to the legislature if the agency wants to be exempt from open records laws.

“This is the right decision under the law and the right decision for the people of Colorado,” said State Sen. Morgan Carroll (D-Aurora). “If we learned anything over the past year, it is that Pinnacol needs to answer to injured workers, to the businesses it serves, and to taxpayers about how it does business, just like any governmental agency. I’m glad the courts agreed.”

Carroll, who testified in court on Thursday, was the chair of the Pinnacol Interim Committee and sits on the Legislative Audit Committee.

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.

Pinnacol President and CEO Ken Ross issued a statement saying the firm filed the lawsuit "to present to the court the legal and factual reasons for our opposition to KMGH-TV’s request under the Colorado Open Records Act" and to seek the court's guidance on how the law applied to Pinnacol.

"Pinnacol believed this request was improper under Colorado law because it involved disclosing records that do not relate to any public function, and do not involve the expenditure of public funds," Ross stated. "The request, in our view, improperly sought records that could harm Pinnacol’s competitive position and involve an improper intrusion into the privacy of individuals who attended the event."

Ross didn't make clear whether Pinnacol would appeal, saying: "We will be reviewing our options with legal counsel and the board of directors to determine our course of action."

Pinnacol has up to 30 days to provide the records, unless the company appeals.