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NEW INSURANCE COMMISH ; Patrick Names Judge Top Regulator

Feb 12, 2007


Gov. Deval Patrick yesterday tapped a Superior Court judge with no insurance sector experience to become the next insurance commissioner, in a move that surprised industry officials grappling with major regulatory issues.

Judge Nonnie Burnes, who was a law partner with Patrick at Hill & Barlow in the early 1990s, will start in her new job later this month and almost immediately be confronted with major auto, health and coastal-property insurance matters.

"I think I can bring a fresh perspective" to regulatory issues, she said in an interview yesterday.

The job will entail listening to different perspectives and making a final decision, she said.

"It's the nature of what I've been doing (as a judge), `Let's hear all the facts,' " said Burnes, 64, who was appointed Superior Court judge in 1996 by then-Gov. William Weld.

"It's a complete surprise," said Frank O'Brien, a vice president at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

"To the insurance industry as a whole, she's a blank slate," said O'Brien, whose group is pushing hard for major auto insurance reforms in Massachusetts.

Patrick has put a hold on most reforms proposed by his predecessor, Gov. Mitt Romney, and has appointed a task force to study the contentious issues involved.

Those opposing auto-insurance reforms backed by former commissioner Julie Bowler seemed surprised but pleased by Burnes' appointment.

"It looks like they're trying to have someone capable of a fresh look at the issues," said Steve D'Amato, a consultant with Cambridge's Center for Insurance Research, which opposed many of the plans that were pushed by Bowler.

Burnes will also have a major say in health-care and coastal- property insurance issues.

Massachusetts has been hit hard recently by insurers pulling out of providing home coverage for those who live along or near storm- vulnerable coastal area.

(c) 2007 Boston Herald. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.

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