Here Comes the Judge!
Did you ever consider how easy it might be for a workers compensation judge to file claim after claim and even retire on workers compensation benefits? After all, who knows the ins and outs of compensability better than a judge? And who is in a better position to locate attorneys and doctors to support even the most dubious claim?
A fascinating article by John Hill and Dorothy Korber in the Sacramento Bee reveals that 15% of workers compensation judges in California have filed claims for workers compensation benefits. Workers comp judges in that legendary state are six times more likely to file claims than judges in other state departments. And in a number of these cases, the judges hired the same attorneys – and used the same doctors -- who appear regularly in their courts. In addition, the claims are ultimately heard before their colleagues on the bench!
One judge has tried for three years to achieve a 100% disability rating, based upon neurological problems involving his feet and hands. Of course, these problems primarily stem from his diabetes, but he has found a doctor to support his claim that the problems were triggered by his work as a judge.
In another situation, a retired judge has put in a claim for “focal hand dystonia” – otherwise known as writer’s cramp. I guess that years of hand drafting findings have resulted in permanent damage to his hand. (I suppose I should consider filing the same claim myself, even though I switched to a keyboard years ago…)
We are not suggesting that judges are immune from work-related injuries. However, we all have concerns if judges play “inside baseball” in the pursuit of marginal claims. When judges take advantage of their intricate knowledge of how workers compensation operates, and when they hire attorneys who appear before them to pursue their claims, public trust erodes. This compelling article raises a number of issues that bear contemplation, as we pick up the knife and fork to carve the Thanksgiving turkey.
Special thanks to our colleague Peter Rousmaniere for pointing the way to this article.