Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thankful this week for our OJCC Team, they do a great job.

The 2013 Annual Report is on the web (www.fljcc.org). There is a multitude of data published each year by the OJCC. Recent blog posts have highlighted the petition filing volumes and attorney fee information. Another interesting fact is the timeliness of litigation. 

Timeliness has been a long haul. There was a time in Florida workers' compensation litigation when cases simply did not move through the system. Attorneys joked with each other about it, waited for orders, and many times were forced into settlement by frustration caused by ridiculous delays. There were documented instances in which entry of a final order required years after the trial. There were instances where the reward of patience for those years was the opportunity to try the case again. 

There is value in judges making decisions with reasonable promptness. There is also value in final orders reflecting the findings of the judge, and featuring explanation of the analysis that went into that order. With an understanding of the judge's logic in any particular case, the parties can proceed either seeking review of the Court or implementing the terms of the order. 

The definition of the parties rights and responsibilities that comes from an order should solve the party's dispute and provide the foundation for moving forward. The effect is broader though. The order in this particular case may help others predict the outcome of their case in the future. The publication of OJCC orders provides a transparency that benefits all who try to predict dispute outcomes and provide advice to their customers or clients. 

In 2005-06, cases proceeded to trial in 465 days average. That is one and one-third years. The OJCC definition of "trial" includes final hearings on petitions for benefits, evidentiary hearings on issues like attorneys fees, cost awards, advances, and more. Any matter which requires presentation of evidence, and results in a trial order, which is substantive. The Substantive order must include findings of fact and conclusions of law, in order for the hearing to be labelled substantive, and for it to be included in the "trial" statistics. In 2012-13, the statewide average days from pleading to trial was 162 days. The OJCC has made dramatic improvement in the time from pleading to trial. 

In 2005-06, it took an average of 76 days for the assigned judge to issue a final order following trial. The statutory requirement is that these orders will be issued within 30 days. It is important to remember that these statistics include evidentiary orders discussed above. There are those that argue some such orders are simpler than a final merits order on a PFB issue(s). They argue that it is therefore somehow misleading to include these orders in this calculation. Their point being these orders should be quicker, and that they therefore skew this "time to order" statistic downward. 

These critics ignore that the OJCC included all of these orders in the statistics for the last seven years. Including them was intentional, following much debate and discussion of the definition the OJCC would use for "trial." Including all of these orders in the "trial" definition has been consistent and provides a sound comparative basis. From 76 days to order in 2005-06, the OJCC has reduced the "time to order" to 15 days in 2012-13. This is half the time required by statute, and a vast improvement from 76 days.

in 2005-06, the average mediation occurred 212 days after the petition was filed. Many mediations occurred a year after petition filing. In 2005-06, the process had been recently innovated to "autoset" mediations after PFB filing. That caused PFB scheduling without any request from the parties. The legislature had also provided an outlet to facilitate timely mediation, requiring judges to send cases to private mediation if they could not be timely mediated by the state mediators. Timeliness improved. In 2012-13, the average days from PFB filing to the first mediation thereon was 84 days. Not only is this a vast improvement from the 212 days, it is well within the statutory 130 day parameter. 

For the last five fiscal years, the OJCC mediators overall have averaged less than the 130 day parameter. This is impressive and a tribute to their effort. 

Three timeliness measures imposed by the Florida Legislature. All three satisfied by the OJCC in 2012-13. The purpose of this system, the OJCC, is to receive, manage, mediate, and adjudicate disputes. The Legislature has defined the timeliness parameters for these processes, and the OJCC is living up to those requirements. Certainly, there are cases in which we do not meet the parameters, but that is a function of facts and circumstances of particular cases. The OJCC focuses on the statistics overall, the statewide averages. According to those, the Judges and Mediators are doing a great job. 

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving 2013. As I reflect on things for which I am thankful, I am reminded of the many tremendous Judges, Mediators, Clerks and Secretaries that work so hard for the OJCC. The timeliness of the OJCC, the transparency of the OJCC, the success of the OJCC are due to their focus, dedication and professionalism. Thank you Team OJCC! I do not say it often enough, but you are a tremendous group of people and Florida is fortunate to have your service. 

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