Archive for Friday, September 15, 1995

LOCAL ATTORNEY SAYS FIRING WAS MOTIVATED BY POLITICS

September 15, 1995

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Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Sebelius fired a Lawrence attorney for allegedly purposely double-billing the state insurance department; he says that's rubbish.

A Lawrence attorney, who Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Sebelius has fired for what she called ``flagrantly abusive'' billings, said Sebelius' motives are purely political.

On Friday, Sebelius attacked two private attorneys who represented the Workers' Compensation Fund.

"She's using this for political advantage," countered Lawrence attorney, Chris Miller, who ran the 1994 campaign of Republican Ron Todd, the incumbent commissioner defeated by Sebelius, a Democrat. "This is politics at its absolute lowest."

Sebelius accused Miller, who she fired on May 5, of submitting billings for $44,000 worth of work for which he already had been paid. She accused Robert A. Anderson, Ellinwood, a former director of workers' compensation for the Department of Human Resources, of billing for more than 24 hours of work on some days.

Between July 1, 1994, and June 30, 1995, the fund paid private attorneys more than $4.2 million. The fund pays some benefits when workers sustain a second job-related injury and was set up to encourage employers to hire the handicapped or previously injured workers. Employers pay into the fund through their workers' compensation insurance premiums.

Miller and Anderson were paid almost $463,000 during the 1994-95 period -- nearly 11 percent of the total spent. After they were fired, they submitted bills of more than $310,000.

Miller said he may have submitted some duplicate bills. He said the insurance department has had his files since May 8.

"If I submitted a bill twice, it was because I thought it hadn't been paid," Miller said.

He said that Sebelius' actions are politically motivated, and that the matter could have been handled in a businesslike manner. Miller said the department still owes him between $150,000 and $270,000.

He said he's hired an attorney and will follow administrative procedures to obtain the money he says is owed to him. If that fails, he said, he'll pursue the matter through the courts.

"I think they're going to end up paying me the money or have a judge ordering them to pay me the money," he said. ``... I'm not asking to be paid for anything I didn't do or anything I'm not entitled to."

But Sebelius said her investigation is not political.

``I think the facts speak for themselves,'' she said. ``The task is in no way complete. The audits are ongoing.''

She said outside auditors will review all of Miller's and Anderson's billings, and any others her office finds suspicious. She did not rule out seeking criminal prosecution or filing civil lawsuits.

``I frankly was somewhat amazed,'' Sebelius told reporters during a news conference. ``These people just seemed oblivious to the fact that there would be some shock over these billings. A lot of people in Kansas will be shocked.''

Anderson could not be reached for comment.

Questions about the Workers' Compensation Fund and the private attorneys who represented it have been raised since 1993, when legislators approved workers' compensation reform legislation.

In 1993 and 1994, The Associated Press reported that attorneys and law firms who worked for Todd, representing the Workers' Compensation Fund and another fund, made more than $300,000 in contributions to Todd from 1989 until the November 1994 general election. Critics argued that the system amounted to cronyism, a charge Todd denied.

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