War of words flares between Garamendi, Holocaust claims group in S.F. meeting

According to California Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi, Lawrence Eagleburger’s management is “sloppy” and even “amateurish.”

And, according to Eagleburger, the chairman of the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims, Garamendi’s criticism is an “ongoing embodiment of your grandstanding tactics.”

Garamendi went on to accuse Eagleburger of allowing Holocaust victims’ outstanding claims to languish, and cozying up to European insurance companies. He wondered if victims will ever see their money. Eagleburger ridiculed Garamendi as hopelessly uninformed.

Following the exchange of incredibly caustic letters between the two men last week — from which the above quotes are excerpted — Garamendi met, face to face, with Mara Rudman, ICHEIC’s chief operating officer, Monday, June 14, during the National Association of Insurance Commissioners national summer meeting in San Francisco.

And what was resolved? According to Garamendi, “Nothing at all.”

While the early morning meeting featured insurance commissioners from a dozen states, only Garamendi and insurance department lawyer Gary Cohen addressed Rudman, with the rest looking on, taking notes and sipping tall cups of coffee.

While the discussion was cordial, Garamendi afterward said ICHEIC has continually refused to discuss how it plans to process thousands of pending claims with just six months to go before its Jan. 1 deadline.

“What we heard today is a continuing of the ‘Well, we’re going to work on it,'” he said.

“We’re going to keep pressing. I want specifics.”

According to Rudman, 75 percent of the claims submitted to ICHEIC do not name a specific insurance company, and are often based on extremely anecdotal evidence.

She noted that, among claims directed at a specific insurer, ICHEIC is on schedule in its processing — with the exception of claims made of Italian insurance giant Generali. When asked by Garamendi what portion of total claims directed at specific insurers this represented, Rudman answered it was roughly half of them.

Rudman admitted that the Generali Trust Fund, the entity created to process the company’s Holocaust-era claims, is bogged down by the glut of casework. Garamendi repeatedly asked if there was any “leverage” in ICHEIC’s agreement with the trust fund that could either force it to pick up the pace or replace it as the body processing claims.

Rudman told j. that ICHEIC was “in the midst of discussions” with hopes of speeding up the process, and she told Garamendi that she has floated the idea of utilizing personnel from ICHEIC or other organizations to augment the trust fund’s workforce.

Following the 45-minute meeting, Garamendi and Cohen had more harsh words for Eagleburger.

While, in his letter to Garamendi, the ICHEIC commissioner claimed a recent augmentation in processing and payment, Garamendi said this was largely accounted for by a total of $16 million recently sent to 16,000 claimants, who each received a check for $1,000.

Those claimants were among the 75 percent who did not name a specific insurance company. Compensating those who directly name insurance companies is “where the meaningful work of ICHEIC is,” according to Garamendi, and he says it’s largely deficient.

The $16 million payment “is better than nothing,” he said. “But this could have been done four years ago.”

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.