Virginia Ellis, watchdog reporter for The Situations, dies at 77

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Virginia Ellis, a trailblazing journalist whose authorities accountability reporting spanned 4 many years and culminated in award-profitable Los Angeles Periods reporting on magic formula diversions of general public funds into the political operations of California’s insurance plan commissioner and led to his resignation, died Thursday.

She was 77.

Ellis served as the Sacramento bureau chief for The Periods for seven decades until eventually her retirement in 2008 but expended more than four decades in journalism. She joined the newspaper in the late 1980s right after masking statehouses in Florida and Texas.

“She imagined that government really should participate in an vital purpose in people’s life and that another person should be making sure that the job was carried out properly,” explained her son, Barry Schnitt. “She experienced a nose for finding out when it was not and outlining why.”

Ellis is also survived by her spouse, Paul Schnitt, whom she satisfied in Florida and who also had a extended newspaper career in Texas and Sacramento.

The investigation by Ellis into the steps of California Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush led to her choice as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2000. Her protection of the scandal received that year’s George Polk Award for political reporting. She was appointed bureau main the next year.

Colleagues recall Ellis as a persistent advocate for these who were failed by the government they experienced elected, a journalist who fought to break limitations put in entrance of women in newsrooms all over the 1970s and ’80s. In her first job, with the Palm Beach Put up in Florida, she was assigned to include politics but was essential to sit in a part of the newsroom reserved for the women of all ages who wrote about culture and fashion.

“She would not be deterred,” said Evan Halper, a Instances workers author who succeeded Ellis as Sacramento bureau chief. “She experienced a way of setting up sources in sites other folks had been not hunting, and a model that was in distinction to the gruff, testosterone-pushed cliches of the era.”

Soon immediately after arriving in Sacramento, Ellis wrote her first tale about Quackenbush, a somewhat unknown Republican in the point out Assembly. By 1994, the legislator was elected California insurance coverage commissioner and grew to become 1 of the party’s most visible statewide leaders by the time he was reelected in 1998.

Ellis’ very first stories on what would in the end guide to a important investigation of Quackenbush had been printed in the summer season of 1999, when the coverage commissioner confronted criticism for letting a prime aide to concurrently maintain 4 condition agency employment while also jogging a private law follow.

The following spring, she noted that Quackenbush had collected marketing campaign contributions from insurance policy providers and utilized the funds to repay financial loans built to his wife’s failed legislative campaign. Further money ended up paid out into an educational basis following the California Office of Insurance policy shelved its investigation into promises submitted soon after the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

In doing so, Ellis claimed, tips from point out legal professionals for steep fines from some organizations had been overlooked. In other situations, businesses were coerced into generating contributions to the educational foundations by the exhibit of phony, sensationalized news stories.

Linda Rogers, who was Ellis’ editor at The Times, said the tenacious reporter’s curiosity was very first piqued by television commercials in 2000 that includes Quackenbush, ads that prominently featured the bold Republican supplying assistance to victims of the earthquake but seen by some as mostly a way to boost his political standing.

“She was the quintessential watchdog, outing all those in community services who had been serving themselves as a substitute,” Rogers reported. “She could not be intimidated. She noticed points other journalists didn’t see, which created for terrific tales.”

A raft of accusations in opposition to Quackenbush roiled Sacramento politics all over the spring of 2000. State officials investigated the investing of $3 million on television advertisements showcasing Quackenbush, paid from a settlement fund anticipated to be applied to help earthquake victims. A different fund was found to be spending income on public relations initiatives.

On June 28, 2000, Quackenbush submitted his resignation “under the cloud of a prison investigation and experiencing certain impeachment,” as Ellis and personnel author Carl Ingram wrote for The Instances in a front-web page tale the pursuing working day.

Ellis was praised for her “persistent reporting that exposed considerable economical improprieties” in obtaining a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize the subsequent yr. But the praise had minor impact on her sensible sensibilities, mentioned loved ones and colleagues. When her protection of Quackenbush was awarded the Selden Ring Award from USC that calendar year, she used the prize revenue to pay out for repairs to the roof of the family residence in Sacramento.

Ellis was a Florida indigenous and worked at newspapers in Palm Beach front and Tampa ahead of becoming a member of the personnel of the St. Petersburg Situations in 1967, exactly where she initially included nearby politics and later on served as the newspaper’s Tallahassee bureau chief from 1975 to 1980. She then moved to Texas and was Austin bureau chief for the Dallas Times Herald from 1980 to 1988, focusing her initiatives on the disorders in the state’s nursing residences — main to motion by state legislators — and later on on a significant-profile investigation of psychological health situations in Texas prisons.

She joined The Occasions in Sacramento in 1988. Point out politics columnist George Skelton, who preceded Ellis as bureau chief, claimed she possessed all the attributes one would want in a seasoned watchdog reporter. When she used for a position with The Instances in Sacramento, Skelton was flooded with calls from her former colleagues from about the nation, urging the newspaper to employ her.

“She was a really challenging-charging journalist. Quite exact, persistent and tenacious,” Skelton reported, adding that she never ever shied away from sticking up for her staff members in opposition to administration when budget cuts loomed on the horizon.

Previous colleagues mentioned she was a tireless mentor to younger journalists. And buddies and loved ones alike observed that Ellis realized how to attraction these in governing administration, when required, to ensure they’d notify her their tale.

“She experienced a way with men and women mainly because she [was] a form and straightforward and generous human being,” stated Schnitt, her son. “It was disarming, in some cases to that person’s peril.”

Following retiring from journalism, Ellis served from 2011 until 2014 as a member of the state’s Very little Hoover Fee, an impartial agency tasked with examining California government operations.

In an interview with the Sacramento-based mostly Capitol Early morning Report in 2008, she stated covering the operate of legislators and point out officers was one particular of the greatest positions in journalism.

“It has fantastic powers and it has impact about all these locations, and barely any individual handles it,” Ellis reported.

Situations employees writer Joseph Serna contributed to this report

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