Conn. AG Barred from Releasing Agents’ Commission Data

The Connecticut Supreme Court said state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal cannot publicize confidential business documents obtained under subpoena in an antitrust probe, prompting him to say he might try to have the ruling overturned.

Monday’s unanimous decision reversed a Feb. 2009 lower court ruling. It was a victory for Brown & Brown Inc, a Florida insurand agency that had turned over about 12,000 subpoenaed documents in a multiyear probe into alleged improper contingent commissions in the insurance industry.

“I am reviewing the decision, which reversed two trial court rulings, and will consider seeking legislative action to overrule its impact,” Blumenthal said in a statement.

Brown & Brown had sued Blumenthal in 2006 to keep the documents under wraps, after failing to reach a confidentiality agreement with the attorney general.

Blumenthal countered that a state antitrust law allowed him to share the subpoenaed information, including with persons outside his office and in other jurisdictions, to further his investigation and perhaps prepare cases for prosecution.

The Supreme Court disagreed.

Citing the potential for prejudice, Chief Justice Chase Rogers said the law bars disclosure of information gathered in an antitrust probe “to all persons outside of the attorney general’s office, with the exception of officials of other states and the federal government.”

Monday’s ruling did not affect Blumenthal’s ability to issue subpoenas.

Michelle Seagull, a lawyer for Brown & Brown, said the company was pleased with the ruling and will be able to keep cooperating with Blumenthal’s probe.

“This decision is important because innocent businesses throughout the country also find themselves subject to investigations in Connecticut from time to time, and will likewise feel more comfortable cooperating,” said Seagull, a lawyer at Axinn, Veltrop & Harkrider LLP in Hartford.

Brown & Brown has not been accused of wrongdoing, she said. The company is based in Daytona Beach and Tampa, Florida.

Blumenthal is a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate.

In afternoon trading, Brown & Brown shares were up 12 cents at $20.06 on the New York Stock Exchange.

The case is Brown & Brown Inc v. Blumenthal, Connecticut Supreme Court, No. SC 18334.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)