Insurance Commissioner Leaving Office... Without Indictment

The last time a Louisiana insurance commissioner left office and did not ultimately go to prison was in 1972, with Dudley A. Guglielmo. Now, 34 years later, Robert Wooley is accomplishing that feat again, stepping down from the post that he has held for the past five years, effective February 15th -- leaving before the end of his term.

Wooley says he is leaving the insurance commissioner position to find a job in the private sector. He's a lawyer, and used to be a lobbyist and work on political campaigns. He says his decision to step down is for personal reasons.

Wooley told 9 News, "When I came [to the office], I thought I'd be here for six months to year. I didn't think I'd run... but I decided to run because there were things that still needed to be completed."

52-year-old Wooley came into office when his boss, former insurance commissioner Jim Brown, left under indictment. Now, more than five years and a campaign win later, Wooley says the hardest day on the job was his first day, when he introduced himself personally to everyone in a department at a time of very low morale.

Wooley was subjected to a lot of criticism this past year because of his Harley Davidson edition luxury truck that was funded by the Insurance Department. The truck brought down so much public wrath, Wooley returned it. But he says the criticism had nothing to do with his decision to step down.

"When I was in the private sector, what I did was attack politicians. I did negative campaigning. I'm not scared of negative publicity, it's never bothered me."

Wooley told 9 News he had actually decided to leave the post before Hurricane Katrina. "We reduced the size of the department, cleaned up the image of the department... I was going to be able to leave without an indictment."

And he was hardly joking. Wooley says he doesn't believe the insurance business is the link between Commissioner Doug Green's bribery conviction in 1991, then commissioner Sherman Bernard's extortion conviction in 1993, or Commissioner Jim Brown's conviction in 2000 for lying to the FBI. But Wooley says he's proud of what he's done for the state.

"I've done a good job -- everybody I've talked to that I care about their opinion think I've done a good job. I've cleaned up the department. And did I make a mistake? Absolutely. But who hasn't?"

So what is he going to do now? Wooley say he's going to get a job. He says he's explored some options, but wanted to wait until he had left the insurance commissioner position before finding a permanent job.

The man who will be taking over Wooley's job, Jim Donelon, said Wooley told him in December that he was leaving. Donelon, a Republican, was chair of the state House Insurance Committee for six years, and spent 20 years in the state house. He told 9 News he does plan to run for the Insurance Commissioner's office in the next election on September 30th.

Reporter: Julie Baxter