As I begin my year as your new NAWCJ President, I think back over the many wonderful mentors I have in this organization and just how much it helped me as a new judge.
I was one of eight judges appointed to the newly-established Tennessee Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims in 2014. The year before, Tennessee underwent a complete overhaul of its workers’ compensation system. A new court was created, removing cases from the state trial courts. New judges were interviewed and appointed. With a new law and a new court, procedural rules and forms were drafted. It was an amazing undertaking led by Administrator Abbie Hudgens, who had a grand vision for Tennessee workers’ compensation, and a Chief Judge, Kenneth Switzer, who had the leadership and experience to turn eight attorneys into eight judges and a respected court.
You might be thinking, just how did we do it? We did it with the assistance of the NAWCJ. My first week as a new judge began in Nashville, Tennessee in the unofficial, first ever New Judges’ Boot Camp. NAWCJ judges from around the country came to Tennessee to offer insight, advice, and encouragement. Because of how beneficial this “boot camp” was for me, I have proudly served on the NAWCJ New Judges’ Boot Camp Committee. I also befriended these judges, who gave up their time to make sure Tennessee had a successful program. I consider these judges to be mentors, whom I can turn to for guidance and support.
I encourage all of you to become and remain involved with the NAWCJ. Join a committee, attend the Lunch and Learn programs, and/or volunteer with the Moot Court program and Give Kids the World events. Every NAWCJ activity is an opportunity to learn and engage with judges from across the country.
So, take a moment and clear your calendars for these upcoming NAWCJ events and programs:
November 30, 2022, 12:30pm ET – Virtual Lunch and Learn: Medical Fee Disputes
February 28 – March 2, 2023 – Virtual New Judges’ Boot Camp
June 2023 – Virtual Lunch and Learn: Repetitive Use Injuries
August 20-23, 2023 – Annual College, Orlando, Florida
December 2023 – Virtual Lunch and Learn: Gig Workers
If you wish to get more involved, or if I can be of any assistance, please feel welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is the most common outcome of a work injury? That is a question that psychologist Dr. Les Kertay likes to pose to audiences when he speaks about workers’ compensation. He did so earlier this week during a presentation before the National Association of Workers’ Compensation Judiciary (NAWCJ), which gathered for their educational track at the Orlando Workers’ Compensation Institute 76th Annual Conference.
The answers he received included “depression,” “litigation,” and “disability.” But the answer he was looking for evaded the group. Kertay told the assembled that audiences often take some time to arrive at the correct answer.
And the answer to the question “What is the most common outcome of a work injury?” is: “They go back to work.”
Personally, I knew the answer he was looking for, if only because we had breakfast together earlier in the day as part of a gathering of WorkCompCollege.com Deans, of which Kertay is a member. We had discussed this very question. My mother would have likely been proud that I held my tongue and did not blurt out the answer early on. After all, nobody likes a know-it-all.
The reality is that an estimated 85% of workers’ compensation injuries go through the process and return to work, with many cases experiencing no lost time at all. We have long noted that we spend 90% of our time discussing and debating about 10% of our injury cases; cases that often represent significant injury and long-term ramifications. The judges that day were responding from their particular vantage point and correctly answered in relation to the cases they see. It is just that they generally don’t see all the cases in workers’ comp – which include injuries that are relatively minor, or where no litigation occurred. It is not that they were unaware of the greater statistics. It is just that those statistics were not part of their daily work experience.
We all form impressions and opinions based on our experiences, as well as the information available to us. Our perceptions of a situation, or even an entire industry, can be formed by those somewhat limited exposures. This is true of every sector in our industry.
Understanding the bigger picture is essential when addressing issues within the industry, yet from almost every vantage point it is a difficult thing to do. Knowing that the structure works for the “silent majority” is helpful, even when we recognize that there is room for improvement across the entire system. The reality is that most people who experience a workplace injury get better and go back to work. Our challenge as an industry is to improve the scheme for those simple cases, as well as the more complex ones we expend the most energy over. Understanding biopsychosocial factors, improving communication, and restoring humanity to an often cold and technical process will help everyone who enters our world.
Yes, the most common result in workers’ comp is our patients go back to work. But that doesn’t mean we cannot help them go back to work better.
Well, you know what I mean.
Ensuring the Reliability of Testimony in Virtual Court Hearings: Virginia’s Use of an Oath Against Undisclosed Assistance During Testimony, and Other Protective Measures
Dana L. Plunkett
Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission
Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission
The situation is all too familiar to judges. A witness hesitantly looks at his attorney or someone else before answering a question. This may reflect the nerves of someone who has never been in a courtroom before. Perhaps they are looking for some sort of validation or, worse, an answer.
From the bench, we notice the pause and the deferring glance of the witness. We see the spouse on the edge of the seat anxiously waiting for the opportunity to interject or affirm the testimony as the witness looks that way. Worse yet, the spouse mouths the answer, nods or openly blurts out a response.
These cues are easy to observe when we have a full view of everyone in our courtroom. We immediately instruct the witness that they need to answer the question to the best of their ability without any assistance, and we may admonish others in the courtroom if their behavior is inappropriate.
We lose many of these observational cues and situational awareness when our hearings enter the virtual world because we are limited to the camera view of the participants. Is the pause and gaze off camera a moment to reflect and recall before providing the answer, or is someone coaching the witness? Voices in the background—are they from a TV, coworkers from a nearby cubicle or a child complaining that mom’s hearing is interfering with the bandwidth for gaming? Or is someone feeding answers to the witness?
Judges commonly ask witnesses in virtual hearings about the presence of other people, suggest they use headsets and instruct them on the appropriate surroundings. What else can we do?
The Virginia Workers’ Compensation Commission, like so many other jurisdictions, suspended in-person operations for a short period of time in 2020 following the COVID outbreak. We quickly implemented a plan to conduct virtual hearings, and the Commission issued an Order that set an expectation concerning virtual testimony.
 A copy of the Order is sent to the parties when the notice for the virtual hearing is issued. Paragraph 4(B) of the Order states: (more…)
2022 Judiciary College Recap
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!
NAWCJ HALL OF FAME HONOREES
BY LUANN HALEY
Administrative Law Judge
Arizona Industrial Commission
The NAWCJ, at the Judicial College in Orlando, honored eight Judges by inducting the following into the NAWCJ’s Adjudicator Hall of Fame: Hon. Michael Alvey (KY), Hon. Robert Cohen (FL), Hon. Robert Dietz (FL), posthumous, Hon. Jennifer Hopens (TX), Hon. Abbie Hudgens (TN), Hon. David Langham (FL), Hon. James Szablewicz (VA), and the Hon. Jane Rice Williams (KY), retired.
Below you will find the photographs of those Judges that attended the College in person and accepted their award.
Honorable Michael Alvey
Honorable James Szablewicz
Honorable David Langham
Honorable Jennifer Hopens
Abbie Hudgens was recognized as one of this year’s honorees for the NAWCJ Hall of Fame at the judicial college in Orlando. Hudgens is retiring as Administrator of the State of Tennessee Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. She is pictured with outgoing NAWCJ president Shannon Bruno-Bishop.
NAWCJ LUNCH & LEARN
November 30, 2022
Save The Date!
By Pamela B. Johnson
Tennessee Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims
NEXT LUNCH AND LEARN: The NAWCJ will hold its next one-hour Lunch and Learn program on Wednesday, November 30, 2022, at 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time. The November discussion will focus on Medical Disputes: Medical/ Pharmacy Fee Schedules and ODG Guidelines. The November panel includes Judges Steve Minicucci (RI), Luann Haley (AZ), Mark Massey (FL) Rosalee Faris, RN (KY) and James Talmage, MD (TN). Join your fellow NAWCJ judges and engage in the discussion of this hot topic.
The NAWCJ launched this virtual initiative as a benefit for our members and to supplement discussions held at the “Boot Camp” and the annual Judicial College. We hope you join us to learn and discuss relevant and engaging workers’ compensation topics from the comfort of your home or office. The aim of this program is to gain knowledge, build collegiality, and develop professionally.
ZOOM LINK: Two weeks before the Lunch and Learn, the NAWCJ will send out an email blast to all members with a link to join the Zoom meeting.
FUTURE LUNCH AND LEARNS:
June 2023 – Repetitive Use Injuries
December 2023 – Gig Workers
Give Kids The World Exceeds Fundraising Goals
By Suzette Carlisle Flowers, NAWCJ Board Member
GKTW Spirit to Serve Committee Member
In 1986, Give Kids the World (“GKTW”) Village was created as a nonprofit resort in Kissimmee, Florida, located on 89-acres of land. Since that time, GKTW Village has welcomed more than 176,000 families and their critically ill children to the Village from all 50 states and 76 countries. Each family receives an all-expense paid weeklong vacation to the Village, filled with fun and magic for the children, siblings, and parents.
Since 2012, the Workers’ Compensation Institute (“WCI”) has supported GKTW by bringing hundreds of volunteers to work at the Village venues and assist with service projects at the Village during the annual WCI conference. WCI is a non-profit educational organization. Venues at the Village include fun activities, food, music, entertainment and more.
The Service Day
On Saturday August 20, 2022, 529 volunteers assembled from various backgrounds and places to perform the following service projects to help the Village maintain the property:
· Arts and crafts;
· Power Washing;
· Beautification; and
The arts and crafts volunteers cutout 2,500 ornaments for children to color, and decorated crowns, and Tiaras for children to use during upcoming events at the Village, and decorated two hundred invitations for families. The outdoor projects performed by volunteers over three and a half hour period equaled a month’s worth of work. Maintaining the Village property is a huge undertaking with limited staff, so volunteers are a key element to the success of the Village.
Pictures below reflect some of the artwork created by dedicated volunteers. Many volunteers returned in 2022 after the two year hiatus due to COVID-19.
Prior to witnessing this years’ service day I had heard about GKTW and even served on the committee as a liaison from the NAWCJ. But witnessing a service day is an experience I will never forget. Volunteers arrived by 6:30 a.m. and filled a large conference room at the Marriott Hotel, with energy before the sun fully rose. Their enthusiasm was contagious. Many volunteers were identified by their groups t-shirts. Old acquaintances were renewed. New associations were formed. Drinks and continental breakfast flowed to boost volunteer, not that they needed it.
Douglas (Doug) Clark, Chair of the WCI’s GKTW Spirit to Serve Committee, greeted volunteers before many loaded buses and headed to the Village. About 80 volunteers, myself included, remained at the hotel for arts and crafts projects.
Below Doug shares his first experience with GKTW and why he stayed connected:
“I became acquainted with GKTW 9 years ago when I decided to celebrate my birthday with my family and friends by volunteering at the village. I’ll never forget the impact it made on all of us. I wanted to do more. It was a unique experience that led to many more visits to the village. That decision 9 years ago transformed my life and ultimately positioned me into overseeing WCI’s annual Spirit to Serve volunteer day.
When presented with the opportunity to become the chair of WCI’s GKTW Spirit to Serve committee, I was a little apprehensive at first but the words of Jim McConnaughhay, Founder & General Chair of the WCI Conference, continued to echo in my head…
This was a chance to get a group of professionals in our industry from all sides to come together – employers, employees, attorneys representing employers, attorneys representing injured workers, third party administrators, doctors, nurses, judges,special service providers and even injured workers; putting aside our differences and coming together to support a common goal.
That was something to be proud of and is worth my time – a cause that is bigger than myself that will help so many deserving families. This event should be advertised and recognized as it is the kids and families at the village that have and will continue to receive the benefits of our industry’s collective efforts. It’s inspiring to see so many leaders step up from different companies and contribute to this cause, year over year.
To summarize and try to put everything into perspective, what has taken us around 24 hours to do collectively in manual service projects, would have taken the village 7 years to complete!In addition to our volunteer efforts, we’ve raised well over $500,000 through our Gala’s, sponsorships, silent auctions, and donations. GKTW relies on volunteers and sponsorships for their survival and our industry has stepped up! I want to share the link to this year’s event in hopes that if you are not already participating in WCI’s GKTW day on August 20, 2022, that you will take the time to check it out and consider joining us in some manner. https://www.wci360.com/give-back/
Saturday’s night the Gala took place in a Mardi Gras atmosphere. The Gala is another WCI-GKTW Village fundraiser. Industry sponsors helped make the night shine. Guests bid on items during the silent auction. A variety of items were on display at the silent auction to help the Village, including art, blue tooth headphones, appliances, jewelry, lap top, and a vacation get away. The highlight of the Gala came when Gabby, one of the children served by the Village, and her mom, shared how much the Village means to them. (Photo below)
All the GKTW fundraising efforts totaled a goal breaking $150,000.00 as seen below in the photo below with Doug presenting the Big Check to WCI during the conference.
You too can join this worthy cause and help put a smile on families’ faces. How can I help you ask? I am glad you asked. You can serve on the Spirit to Serve planning committee, share your talents and time on service day or make a donation. Planning for next year will start soon. All efforts keep the smiles coming for these families.
A picture of Doug with Micayla Rowe , GKTW representative, on Service Day 2022
Picture of volunteers gathered at the Marriott at the crack of dawn before Service Day begins
Picture of Gabby with Mom, sharing her thoughts about the Village during the Gala
A picture of invitations decorated by volunteers to invite families to special events
A picture of Doug presenting the $150,000.00 fund raising check during the WCI conference
Video of volunteers gathered at the Village on Service Day 2022. Eager to work
NEW JUDGES’ BOOT CAMP
by Judge Pamela Johnson
Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims
The NAWCJ will host a virtual “boot camp” for new adjudicators on Tuesday through Thursday, February 28 – March 2, 2023. The prospect of becoming an adjudicator of workers’ compensation disputes can be daunting. Whether a state refers to its adjudicators as judges, commissioners, hearing officers, or some other title, they are expected to conduct fair hearings in an efficient manner and produce well-written decisions that have a significant impact on the citizens and businesses of that state.
The New Judges’ Boot Camp is designed to make that transition smooth. The program is developed and geared toward newer adjudicators with three or less years of experience. They will hear from sitting adjudicators, regulators, attorneys, and academics covering a wide range of topics that will impact your day-to-day work. The curriculum includes sessions discussing the origins of workers’ compensation laws, the transition from an advocate to an adjudicator, judicial writing, conducting hearings and handling discovery disputes, weighing evidence and ruling on objections, and dealing with unrepresented litigants.
The NAWCJ Board of Directors identified a need to provide training for new adjudicators, which cannot be fulfilled at the annual judicial college in Orlando. This boot camp does not replace the annual judicial college, but it has and will serve a need for our members who are new workers’ compensation adjudicators. Information regarding the agenda, program cost, registration, and accommodations will be made available soon and posted to the NAWCJ website (http://nawcj.org). If you have any questions about the “boot camp,” please contact me at email@example.com.
Please encourage your newer adjudicators to attend this training.
OCTOBER 2022 MEMBER NEWS
Here are some recent developments from the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC):
Jeff Nelson was appointed to serve as the Commissioner of Workers’ Compensation in August 2022. The commissioner oversees DWC, which regulates the workers’ compensation system in Texas, ensuring injured employees receive the necessary benefits to quickly return to work, and keeping workers’ compensation costs at a reasonable level for Texas employers.
The commissioner enforces the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act and rules and administers the certified self-insurance program for individual employers. DWC’s responsibilities also include resolving claim level disputes about medical and income benefits, as well as medical fee disputes.
Commissioner Nelson has been with DWC since March of 2016. Prior to being appointed commissioner, he served as the Director of External Relations. As director, he was the primary point of contact for legislative offices and stakeholders and worked to advance DWC’s policies and initiatives.
Commissioner Nelson, who received a bachelor’s degree in government from the University of Texas at Austin, has more than 15 years of public service experience. He previously served as a senior campaign consultant for Congressman Kevin Brady, executive aide to Governor Rick Perry, and as a legislative aide to State Senator Tommy Williams where he worked on insurance issues involving workers’ compensation and the Texas Windstorm Insurance Association. He is a board member of the Southern Association of Workers’ Compensation Administrators.
Kara Squier, an administrative law judge (ALJ) in the Fort Worth Field Office of DWC, became team lead for the northern region of the Hearings program area. In that position, she supervises the ALJs in her region. Judge Squier received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Louisiana State University and a law degree from Texas A&M University School of Law. She began her career practicing workers’ compensation law as an attorney for injured employees until she left to join a firm practicing civil litigation. Through her litigation work, she joined another firm where she acted as a managing attorney for its social security disability division. Judge Squier returned to workers’ compensation law in 2014, when she joined DWC as an ALJ, initially in the Waco Field Office.
Marilyn “Katie” Kidd, an ALJ in the Austin headquarters of DWC, was named the hearings coordinator for DWC. In addition to presiding over hearings, she coordinates projects for the Hearings program area and projects with other DWC departments. Recently, she has been updating DWC forms, notice letters, Hearings-related web pages, and training programs for Hearings staff. Judge Kidd has 28 years of experience as an attorney in the workers’ compensation system and has been an ALJ with DWC for nine years, initially in the DWC Dallas Field Office. She has a bachelor’s degree in advertising and marketing from Texas Tech University and a law degree from the University of Texas School of Law.
Robin Lowenkron Holm joined DWC as an ALJ in the DWC Houston West Field Office. Judge Holm received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 1993. She subsequently attended the University of Houston Law School where she received her law degree in 1996. She started her legal career with a real estate and commercial litigation firm in Houston. In 1999, she joined the firm of Smith & Carr, P.C. handling insurance defense, insurance subrogation, and workers’ compensation cases. She is board certified in workers’ compensation law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.
Governor Ron DeSantis recently appointed Barbara Case to be a judge of compensation claims in West Palm Beach, Florida. Along with other judges, she will preside over workers’ compensation claims brought in Palm Beach, Indian River, Martin, Okeechobee, and St. Lucie counties. Judge Case was admitted to the Florida Bar in 2001, following her graduation from St. Thomas University College of Law in 2000. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of South Florida in 1997. While in private practice, Judge Case served on the Florida Workers’ Compensation Rules Advisory Committee, and was named a Super Lawyer in the area of workers’ compensation.
Governor Ron DeSantis recently appointed Jill Jacobs to be a judge of compensation claims in Orlando, Florida. Along with other judges, she will preside over workers’ compensation claims brought in Orange, Lake, Osceola and Seminole counties. Judge Jacobs was admitted to the Florida Bar in October 1987, following her graduation from the University of Miami School of Law. She received her undergraduate degree from Rutgers University in 1983. Besides working as a private attorney, she also served as the deputy city attorney for Palm Bay, Florida, immediately prior to her appointment. Judge Jacobs is board-certified in workers’ compensation law, and is a member of the Judge William Wieland American Inns of Court.
Governor Ron DeSantis recently appointed Lourdes Sancerni to be a judge of compensation claims in Orlando, Florida. Along with other judges, she will preside over workers’ compensation claims brought in Orange, Lake, Osceola and Seminole counties. Judge Sancerni was admitted to the Florida Bar in April 2003, following her graduation from the University of Florida Levin College of Law in December 2002. She received her undergraduate degree from Florida International University. Immediately prior to her appointment, Judge Sancerni was an attorney, focusing her practice on workers’ compensation law in North and Central Florida.
Judge Appointment Announced for the Memphis Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims
Administrator Troy Haley has appointed Shaterra Reed Marion as a judge on the Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims, the adjudicative function within the Tennessee Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC). She will be located in the Memphis office of the BWC.
Ms. Marion has practiced law in Tennessee since 2012, primarily in workers’ compensation and insurance defense. She has been Field Counsel in Memphis for Liberty Mutual Insurance Company/Law Offices of Julie Bhattacharya Peak since 2014. She is on the Board of Directors for the Junior League of Memphis (JLM) as the Executive Vice President and is a 2020 graduate of the Leadership Memphis Fast Track Program.
Administrator Haley said of the appointment, “Shaterra Reed Marion will be a welcome addition to the Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims in Memphis. She has the heart of a public servant and as a judge I know she will be fair to all parties and reflect the values for which the Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims is known.”
She will replace the recently retired Judge Deana Seymour on the Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims in Memphis.
Ms. Marion graduated from the University of Florida, where she majored in Sports Management. She is also a graduate of the Howard University School of Law in Washington, DC, where she was a member of the trial advocacy moot court team and a Merit Scholar.
In Ms. Marion’s words, “Judges play a critical role in ensuring our system works justice for our citizens. In service to this great community, I eagerly look forward to applying the workers’ compensation statutes in a fair and compassionate way to further justice.”
July 2022 President’s Letter
Greetings from the President
By Shannon Bruno Bishop
The National Association of Workers’ Compensation Judiciary’s Judicial College is a little over a month away and I am so excited about this year’s conference. As always, we have lots of educational sessions lined up. Our Curriculum Committee has organized sessions on writing pitfalls, evidence, issues related to undocumented workers, delayed treatment, and the effects of mental disease on workers’ compensation claims. These are just a few topics, but believe me there are many more interesting sessions lined up.
Aside from enjoying our educational sessions, I look forward to meeting and reconnecting with my colleagues at a few of the social gatherings that have been planned by the Conference Committee. The opportunity to meet other workers’ compensation adjudicators from across the country has been my greatest joy of being a member of the NAWCJ. I always look forward to sharing stories and experiences with you, not to mention a few good laughs!
Please enjoy this month’s Lex & Verum. Our editorial committee has included several interesting articles, as well as information regarding Judicial College scholarships, opportunities to serve as judges for the Ear T. Zehmer Moot Court Competition and the Give Kids the World Service Day project, which will take place on August 20, 2022.
In closing, I would like to end where I began…the Judicial College! Take a look at the College Brochure and please register for the Judicial College. You will not be disappointed.