Plight of Quackenbush Whistle-Blower

February 26, 2001

A new measure, AB 363, was introduced by California Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, in an attempt to bring about reforms that would help protect government attorneys who report wrongdoing.

Steinberg, who handled a great deal of the questioning during last year’s legislative hearings investigating activities of former insurance commissioner Chuck Quackenbush, cited the example of insurance department lawyer Cindy Ossias as a prime illustration of the need for the proposed legislation.

By leaking documents related to Quackenbush’s settlement agreements with a group of Northridge earthquake insurers to the Assembly Insurance Committee, Ossias risked both her law license and job. When her role as a whistle-blower came out in the media, Ossias was placed on administrative leave by Quackenbush, who also initiated steps to have her fired. Ossias was reinstated after Quackenbush’s resignation by his successor, Clark Kelso.

The State Bar of California, which had launched an investigation to determine whether attorney-client privilege had been violated by Ossias, ultimately exonerated her.

Steinberg told the Los Angeles Times that the bar’s decision had been specifically limited to Ossias’ case and that his bill would provide protection for all government lawyers in the state who expose wrongdoing from losing jobs or bar licenses.

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