Good Vibes From a Boot Camp Attendee

Judge Catrice Johnson Reid, Administrative Law Judge Louisiana Workforce Commission,
Office of Workers’ Compensation offers insight on the New Judges’ Boot Camp

The Merriam-Webster Learner’s Dictionary has defined “boot camp” as “a short but very difficult program: a program or situation that helps people become much better at doing something in a short period of time.” In keeping with our mission, Chief Judge Kenneth M. Switzer of the Tennessee Bureau of Workers’ Compensation created this informative and educational boot camp for newly appointed judges to address issues unique to the workers’ compensation system. The boot camp will provide training in judicial ethics, settlement issues, conducting hearings, and writing orders. Training at the boot camp reflect NAWCJ’s efforts to provide educational forums for workers’ compensation arbiters.

NAWCJ’s 2020 New Judge’s College “Boot Camp” will be held on March 5 and 6 in Nashville, Tennessee and will provide new workers’ compensation adjudicators invaluable lessons in transiting from advocate to arbiter. As a newly appointed adjudicator, advice on how to approach the bench will be varied and plentiful. Advice comes from all sources, fellow judges, “seasoned” attorneys in the workers’ compensation arena, and the public at large.

I was fortunate to attend the inaugural New Judge’s College “Boot Camp” held in 2018. Well-respected and highly experienced workers’ compensation judges from Texas, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia, Kentucky, Arizona, Tennessee, Florida, and Maryland gathered at the Tennessee Bureau of Workers Compensation to impart their experience and knowledge to the twelve adjudicators in attendance. Topics presented at the “boot camp” ranged from the origins and principles of workers’ compensation to insight in dealing with parties coming before the court, both the attorney and the litigant. The “boot camp” setting provided for a more intimate and candid discussion of these topics.

Past presenters have been Judge Jennifer Hopens of Texas and Judge David Torrey of Pennsylvania who opened our “boot camp” with the Orientation, Origins, and Key Principles of Workers’ Compensation. Judges Wesley Marshall of Virginia, David Imahara of Georgia and Michael Alvey of Kentucky led a lively discussion in their session, From Advocate to Adjudicator – Learning to Think Differently. Judges Douglas W. Gott of Kentucky, James Szablewicz of Virginia and Dale Tripps of Tennessee provided information in their session entitled Conduct of Pre-Hearing Conferences, Status Conferences, and Hearing, Including Dealing with Common Evidentiary Issues/Objections and Promoting Due Process. Judges LuAnn Haley of Arizona and Pamela Johnson of Tennessee gave practical advice in their session, Preparation for Hearings, Trials and Evaluation of Evidence. Attorney Elizabeth Usman, Professor at Belmont University School of Law and Dr. Matthew Hearn, Professor of English at Liscomb University provided a much needed and appreciated session on judicial writing. No continuing legal education seminar or “boot camp” would be complete without a session dealing with ethics and professionalism. Judges Melodie Belcher of Georgia, David Langham of Florida, and Karl Aumann of Maryland provided comic yet realistic advice to the attendees. Dr. Robert Synder, Medical Director for the Tennessee Bureau of Workers Compensation, provided medical information regarding Common Workers’ Compensation Injuries and How to Read the Records and Under the Doctor’s Deposition. In our closing session, Judge Robert Himmel of Virginia provided the attendees with inspiring and thought-provoking words of advice in approaching cases and litigants. He gave the attendees this advice – adjudicators set the tone in their courtroom and that tone trickles downs to all of the parties that come before them.

I, like the other attendees, digested the valuable tips, helpful hints and real-life experiences gained during my time in Nashville and have applied them in my role as adjudicator. I highly recommend and encourage all new adjudicators to attend this “boot camp” to hone your skills, tap into the wealth of knowledge, perspective, and experience of our seasoned NAWCJ leadership.