Thursday, January 17, 2013

Comings and Goings

Not long ago, I took to this Blog to discuss the departure of Thomas Portuallo, a long-serving Florida  Judge of Compensation Claims.  I described my feelings about Judge Portuallo and his service to this State. I write today to thank another icon of our organization, Judge Alan Kuker, and to congratulate and thank others (more on that later).  Judge Kuker was appointed Judge of Compensation Claims in 1973 by Ruben Askew. He thereafter served continuously for forty years in District MIA, leaving an indelible mark on the history of Florida’s workers’ compensation adjudication process. Judge Kuker’s term is expiring, and he will not be serving another.

As I mentioned in the Blog regarding Judge Portuallo, none of us is irreplaceable. Someone will have large shoes to fill indeed when she or he replaces Judge Kuker in Miami. His departure is the end of an era in South Florida. Judge Kuker has seen the time of Deputy Commissioners and JCCs, the First District and the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC). In fact, by special designation, Judge Kuker presided as a part of an IRC panel several years ago with Leander Shaw, Jr., who would go on to serve as a Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice.

 The OJCC will miss Judge Kuker and his positive contributions to the adjudication process. His persistence and fortitude are an inspiration to all who would hold the job of JCC.  To devote one’s career to this job, over the span of 30 years, cannot have been an easy task. Believe it or not, being a JCC can be a thankless job some days. Judge Kuker told me repeatedly, though, that he loved the job and greatly enjoyed what he was doing.

One reason that being a JCC is sometimes frustrating is in the nature of our system. In civil cases and criminal cases, there is usually a clear victor. The extent of victory is perhaps debatable in those contexts, but usually there is a winner and that party emerges from the process pleased. Not always so in workers’ compensation. Because of the serial nature of claims, it is not uncommon for both sides to leave a hearing upset or even angry.

I recall a case in which a claimant sought multiple benefits; the Carrier denied and asserted the so-called “fraud” defense. The judge denied the benefits and declined to ban the worker’s potential future benefits, by declining to rule against the claimant on the misrepresentation. The Judge simply elected not to address “fraud” and thereby denied the defense. The carrier, having prevailed, owing no claimed benefits, appealed to the Court seeking an order compelling the Judge to rule on the misrepresentation. They lost again. The point though, is that in that case all parties were displeased with the trial result. Neither party felt they were the victor. All parties were mad at the judge and mad at the system, and dissatisfied. Some of them told me so.

I hear complaints from attorneys, injured workers, adjusters, risk managers, employers, doctors (well, you get the picture) about workers’ compensation generally and the adjudication process specifically. No one would tell you our system is perfect. What each might wish to change, however, varies. But returning to the point, it is not easy being a JCC. Knowing we are engaged in a difficult and sometimes thankless job, we are proud and excited to welcome Judge Massey to our ranks soon. Congratulations Mr. Massey! Governor Scott appointed him to serve in Tampa, replacing Judge Joe Murphy, upon his retirement. This week Governor Scott also reappointed Judges D’Ambrosio (WPB) and Rosen (STP) for four more years. Congratulations Judges! We are proud of them all.

During the twelve years since I was appointed in PNS, Judges have left the bench, and the OJCC is not the same as it was. I could write an entire Blog page about each of those who have departed, and perhaps someday I shall. For today, though, it has been my personal pleasure to know Judge Kuker and Judge Murphy over these comparatively short twelve years that I have been a judge.  I am certain that each will bring great energy to whatever endeavor each selects as his next challenge. Parting will not be easy for any of us. We wish Judges Kuker and Murphy Godspeed and the best of luck. We commit to you that we will continue to grow in our capabilities and improve this organization, bringing you be best service that we can.

Remember that none of us is irreplaceable, though that does not mean replacing certain people is easy by any means.

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