New MassMutual Chairman Promises Internal Policy Changes

Lawyers for MassMutual Financial Group argued in Superior Court in Hartford, Conn. last week that documents summarizing internal investigations into the conduct of former chief executive Robert O’Connell cannot be made public because they are part of an antitrust investigation.

Company attorney Ross Garber cited a Connecticut law that says documents turned over to the attorney general in the course of an antitrust probe, “shall not be available to the public.”

But William Fish, an attorney for The Hartford Courant, which is among a number of media organizations seeking the documents, argued that the documents were not turned over by the company in response to an antitrust subpoena, and are not covered by that law.

Also on Friday, new chairman James Birle released a statement announcing that he and the board are studying changes to internal policies to prevent what he said were abuses by O’Connell.

The board now believes the management structure put in place by O’Connell was designed to hide his actions from the board, the statement said. The company is working to change systems and policies to prevent abuses, Birle said.

“Our overarching goal is to create a culture of open communication, trust and collegiality, and an environment in which all of our associates — no matter how junior — feel empowered to come forward and raise any concerns they have,” he said.

Newspapers in Connecticut and Massachusetts and The Associated Press have requested the release of the documents and Connecticut Attorney General Robert Blumenthal had planned to release them before MassMutual received a temporary restraining order last month.

Friday’s hearing was on whether to extend or dismiss the restraining order. Judge Kevin E. Booth asked for follow-up briefs from lawyers in the case by Tuesday and said he would try to rule by the end of next week.

A lawyer for MassMutual said the release of the documents would punish the company for cooperating with investigators and could also hurt employees named in the internal reports.

The company has also said the reports include confidential business and financial data and their release could affect the ongoing investigation by Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly.

The Springfield company’s board of directors fired O’Connell on June 2 after an internal investigation found evidence of improper behavior.

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