By Administrative Law Judge Stephanie Kinney
Kentucky Department of Workers’ Claims
The 13th annual National Workers’ Compensation Judiciary College took place last month in sunny Orlando. Adjudicators from across the country congregated to listen to presentations and mingle with colleagues. To me, in-person gatherings are a welcomed event as we return to a post-Covid world. Mother Nature delivered scorching temperatures, and the agenda followed suit by including hot workers’ compensation topics throughout the country.
The program kicked off with a presentation regarding legal writing and ended with a professionalism segment. Those are two fitting bookends for any adjudicator. However, the content in between proved to be just as enlightening and beneficial. Medical treatment, virtual proceedings, safety concerns, undocumented workers, and ethical issues were just a few topics on the agenda.
One cannot underscore the valuable experiences and conversations that occur outside the ballrooms and away from the agenda. The Judiciary College offered far more than excellent presentations. It provided an opportunity for adjudicators to come together and discuss common issues or problems that plague multiple jurisdictions. It was a chance to forge new relationships with colleagues from differing states and think about things from a different perspective. For instance, I never thought of NCAA athletes as possible “employees.” Dr. Norma Goonen and Judge Sylvia Medina-Shore delivered an eye-opening presentation on this subject. As a result, I view student-athletes in a different light.
The Judiciary College also poses an opportunity to celebrate each other. An adjudicator holds a thankless but essential job. For that reason, it is imperative to recognize our colleagues’ significant contributions and exemplary performance. This year’s Hall of Fame recipients included: Hon. Jennifer Hopens (TN), Hon. Janie Williams (KY), Hon. David Langham (FL), Hon. Robert Dietz (FL), Hon. Abbie Hudgens (TN), Hon. Michael Alvey (KY), Hon. Robert Cohen (FL), and Hon. Jim Szablewicz (VA). Also, Chairman Alvey received the John Jay Lazzara Leadership Award and the Florida Workers’ Compensation Hall of Fame inducted Judge Medina-Shore.
A torch was passed during the Judiciary College. Former President Judge Shannon Bruno-Bishop handed the reins to President-Elect Judge Pamela Johnson. Many thanks and much gratitude to Judge Bruno-Bishop for devoting her time and energy to the NAWCJ! Also, best wishes to President Johnson as she begins her term!
Justice Louis Brandeis said, “There are no shortcuts in evolution.” We owe it to ourselves, each other, and the parties who appear before us to evolve into the best versions of ourselves. The Judiciary College provides an opportunity to delve into different topics, gain perspective, and build relationships with our peers. It is an invaluable experience. I left this year’s conference with a renewed enthusiasm that can only be kindled by the presence of brilliant and creative individuals. It was an experience worthy of repeating. I hope to see you all again next year!