Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Expanding Role of the NAWCJ

The National Association of Workers' Compensation Judiciary (NAWCJ) is in Nashville this week, providing judicial training at the Tennessee Workers' Compensation Educational Conference. We are proud to be here, it has been an interesting road. Read on to understand who the NAWCJ is and how we got here. 

In 2008, I was speaking with Jim McConnaughhay and Judge Lazzara at the WCI conference in Orlando. The conversation evolved into a discussion of why there was no educational function or group dedicated specifically to the workers' compensation adjudicator. Steve Rissman and Judge Robert Cohen joined the conversation. From our interest, a working group evolve; later talks included Judges Hawkes and Wolf of the First District Court. Meetings were held, and documents drafted. On March 23, 2009 the Articles of Incorporation were filed in Tallahassee and the National Association of Workers' Compensation Judiciary was born. 

On August 17 & 18, 2009 the NAWCJ held its inaugural Judiciary College in conjunction with the Florida Workers' Compensation Institute, now know as simply the Workers' Compensation Institute. Topics that year included Judicial Stress and Behavior, Judicial Writing, Evidence, the Code of Judicial Conduct, and occupational medicine. It was a great success. 

In the years since, the annual Judiciary College has become a fixture at WCI each August. Adjudicator attendance has grown despite the difficulties of hard economic times, constrained state budgets, and resulting travel restrictions. We have had attendees from Arizona, Washington State, California, Minnesota, Maryland New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Virginia, South Carolina and various places in between. In recent years, our attendance has been about 100 adjudicators annually. In August 2014 we will host the 6th Annual Judiciary College. We have a great group coming together from across the country for this event.

In September 2009, the inaugural issue of the Lex and Verum newsletter of the NAWCJ was distributed. Through 2009 and into 2010, the distribution grew consistently until it was distributed monthly to about 1,000 adjudicators and regulators of various state workers' compensation systems. In 2013, the fiftieth monthly issue was distributed. Every issue is archived at www.NAWCJ.org.

The organization took hold, and expansion began. The original organizers on the board were joined by adjudicators from a variety of states including Georgia, Maryland and Pennsylvania in 2010. Soon we also had Board members from Kentucky, Louisiana, Texas, and Virginia. I am certain I am missing some states, but the point is made. Though the first two Presidents were from Florida, Judges Lazzara and Lorenzen, the national nature of the organization became clear when Judge David Torrey of Pennsylvania became President in 2012. This August, he will ascend to the best job in any organization, Past-President, and the Honorable Michael Alvey of Kentucky will become President. 

In 2013, the NAWCJ was invited to partner with the International Association of Accident Boards and Commissions, the IAIABC. They hold a convention annually at various locations; in 2013 it was in sunny San Diego. Through the extraordinary efforts of Elizabeth Crum (PA) and Karl Aumann (MD), a Judicial education program was jointly presented by the IAIABC and the NAWCJ at that conference. Topics included Evidence, Mediation, Appeals, and an adjudicator's roundtable discussion.  This event marked the first time the NAWCJ expanded its efforts beyond the annual Judiciary College in Orlando. 

Growth in the area of educating workers' compensation adjudicators continued in 2014. With Tennessee's legislative decision to form an administrative hearing process for their workers' compensation claims came the appointment of the inaugural Tennessee Compensation Judges. The NAWCJ was invited to jointly produce a New Judge's College with the Tennessee Department of Labor, Division of Workers' Compensation

That agency is headed by Abigail Hudgins, whose efforts towards a smooth implementation of the new administrative process have been nothing short of herculean. On June 17-19, 2014 leadership of the NAWCJ are in Nashville at the Tennessee Workers' Compensation Educational Conference providing training for the first eight Tennessee judges, as well as judges participating from other jurisdictions. 

The details of the program and the biographies of the new Tennessee judges are in the June 2014 Lex and Verum. We congratulate them and Tennessee generally on this historic step. 

The Association is proud of and grateful for the contributions of the faculty of this College, Hon. Michael Alvey (KY), Hon. Steve Farrow (GA), Hon. Melissa Jones (D.C.), Hon. Sheral Kellar (LA), Hon. Dwight Lovan (KY), Hon. Jim Szablewicz (VA), Hon. David Torrey (PA), Hon. Jonathan Weatherby (KY), and Hon. Jane Williams (KY). Leaders and trend-setters from seven jurisdictions providing a transition to the bench for the newest jurisdiction to embrace the administrative model. 

In September 2014 the NAWCJ will again team with the IAIABC to produce an adjudicator's program in conjunction with their 100th anniversary celebration in Austin, Texas. The NAWCJ is indeed vibrant and dynamic, filling a niche and supporting the education and collegiality of those many who strive to adjudicate disputes in this unique marketplace across the continent. 

None of this would have been possible without the vision and financial support of the WCI and its leadership, James McConnaughhay, Steven Rissman, J. David Parrish, and Gerald Rosenthal. There has also been significant financial support from a variety of Associate Members and Judiciary College sponsors, who are frankly to numerous to mention here individually. 

I congratulate the leadership of the NAWCJ, whether mentioned herein by name or not. The organization has developed tremendously since that conversation in 2008 and has a great future before it in building the knowledge and collegiality of adjudicators, through the Judiciary College, through the monthly newsletter, and through its cooperation with other great organizations like the WCI, the Tennessee Division of Workers' Compensation and the IAIABC. 

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