Judge orders Pinnacol to comply with CORA on golf trip

After suing KMGH Channel 7 to block a Colorado Open Records Act (CORA) inquiry into expenses related to an “extravagant” golf trip to Pebble Beach, Calif., Pinnacol Assurance was told Thursday by a Denver District Court judge that the state workers’ compensation giant should adhere to the same CORA requirements as any other public entity.

“This is the right decision under the law and the right decision for the people of Colorado,” said Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, who testified before the court Thursday. “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 serves on the Legislative Audit Committee that released Pinnacol’s financial and performance audit in June. That report found numerous faults with Pinnacol’s procedures and practices.

At the time of the audit release, Sen. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, was incensed by what he saw as poor business practices.

“If you would have been at my house when I read this, you would have heard me a few blocks away. You look at the meals allowances and the way that approvals are done, where you sometimes have subordinates approving [the spending]. Those are not appropriate policies at all.”

The lawsuit stemmed from a KMGH Channel 7 report that exposed Pinnacol board members taking an extravagant golf trip in Pebble Beach in May. Channel 7 used CORA to request documents or information related to the expenses of the trip. Pinnacol refused and sued Channel 7 to block disclosure.

“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,” the company said in a press release. “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.”

CORA requires that most public records be open for inspection by the public. Since Pinnacol is a quasi-governmental agency, Channel 7 assumed such a request was appropriate. The court agreed.

“[Pinnacol’s] spelling (“col” at the end, instead of “cle”) recognizes our heritage and dedication to the people of Colorado,” Pinnacol’s website reads.

The company 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, according to Pinnacol’s website.

“Based on Judge Morris B. Hoffman’s decision in favor of KMGH-TV’s request, we will be reviewing our options with legal counsel and the board of directors to determine our course of action,” the Pinnacol release stated.

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