Thursday, August 22, 2013

Much to Learn from the Judicial College this year

I missed the usual publication of this blog yesterday. I try to write each Monday and Wednesday. This week, though, I was at the Fifth Annual National Association of Workers' Compensation Judges (NAWCJ) educational conference, and busy with the many challenges that participating in such a program provides.

The NAWCJ conference is held in conjunction with multiple other programs which accumulate to form the Workers' Compensation Educational Conference (WCEC) in Orlando each August. The NAWCJ program this year included an evidence professor from Mississippi, an ethics presentation by a Federal Judge from Louisiana, and a judicial writing program by an District Court judge from Florida. There was a medical presentation, a view of the bench presentation, and round table discussions of  medical litigation processes and challenges and judicial security. 

The attendees at the NAWCJ included adjudicators from across the country, about 20 jurisdictions. Some traveled from as far away as Washington state. They gathered for the educational opportunities and for the opportunity to hear how their challenges and processes are either similar to, or radically different from, those of other jurisdictions. This intellectual  exchange included formal programming. A multi-jurisdictional panel of adjudicators presented the topic at one of the sessions. Throughout the program, however, I heard many conversations in which attendees informally compared their various jurisdiction's systems, strengths and challenges. 

Also within the conference was a program presented by the Southern Association of Workers' Compensation Administrators (SAWCA). Their focus was a roundtable program specifically focused on the various challenges and successes of state workers' compensation systems. This program presented 22 officials from 17 different states. A three hour discussion ensued, after which many attendees suggested more time was needed to further discuss these diverse issues. 

The differences that come to light in these conversations is enlightening. In the beginning, workers' compensation began in a handful of states. It spread rapidly in the early 20th Century. States tended to borrow parts from other states as they formed their own statutes and codes. There were marked similarities. As a side-note, Richard Sicking noted in his annual Moot Court speech this year that some of those similarities among statutes remain to this day.

However, various states have made amendments to their laws over the last 100 years, and today there are therefore also marked differences. It is intellectually interesting to hear from the adjudicators and administrators as to why those provision of law were changed or adopted over the years. These legislative and procedural "answers" all came from problems, or at least perceived problems or challenges in those various states. 

There was an incredible diversity in these conversations. Subjects included topics about which Florida is fairly comfortable, such as mediation. We have had that process a mandatory portion of our law for almost 20 years. Other jurisdictions at the conference have either recently adopted mediation or are considering doing so. 

Other topics were unfamiliar to Florida, such as the opt-out concept. The Oklahoma opt-out was compared to the Texas opt-out in the SAWCA program.  The conversation also included Administrator and Regulator concerns about medication costs, medical treatment guidelines, and child support arrearage. 

From similarities or differences, there was much to absorb in a short time. I hope that the participants and audiences took home as much from these programs as I did.  

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