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Times' Ellis Wins Polk Reporting Prize

March 16, 2001

Times staff writer Virginia Ellis has won the 2000 George Polk Award for political reporting, in recognition of her stories exposing misconduct by former California Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush.

As a result of her stories, Quackenbush, facing imminent impeachment, left office in July.

It was the third consecutive year that a Times staff writer has won a Polk award, one of journalism's most prestigious. The Times has won 12 Polks since the award was established by Long Island University in 1949 to honor the memory of a CBS reporter killed while covering the civil war in Greece.

In 1999 and 1998, Times writers won for their coverage of the war in Kosovo.

Ellis, who has covered Sacramento for The Times since 1988, was among 12 winners of the 2000 Polk awards. Others went to writers for Time magazine, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, NBC Dateline, KHOU-TV in Houston, the Indianapolis Star, the New York Review of Books and the Mobile, Ala., Register and to author Laurie Garrett.

The awards will be presented April 18.

Earlier this month, Ellis also won the Selden Ring Award for investigative reporting, administered by the Annenberg School for Communication at USC. Established in 1989 by California businessman Selden Ring, the $25,000 prize recognizes the year's outstanding investigative work in the United States. "Virginia Ellis' reporting was flawless, the writing was clear, and for months she broke story after story with startling revelations," the judges said.

In her first reports, which started last March, Ellis showed that Quackenbush had funneled tens of thousands of dollars from insurance companies to his wife to pay debts from her unsuccessful state Senate campaign. The debt included a mortgage on the couple's home.

Ellis later reported that the commissioner ignored recommendations from his legal staff that he fine some of the state's biggest insurers hundreds of millions of dollars for mishandling claims after the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Instead, Quackenbush and his senior staff instructed the insurers to donate more than $12 million to nonprofit foundations he created.

Later stories showed that Quackenbush diverted public funds into a political slush fund to advance his plans for higher office.

Prompted by Ellis' reports, three legislative oversight committees scheduled hearings and the California attorney general launched a criminal investigation.

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