Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Great Advice from a Great Judge

I heard a great deal about workers' compensation at the 2016 Summit in Dallas recently. A vast spectrum of backgrounds, professions and perspectives were present. I am hopeful that the conversations about workers' compensation will continue. There are contentious subjects, and even the vocabulary can be a challenge.

After, I received an email from Michael Alvey, who is the Chair of Kentucky's workers' compensation board. This three-judge panel is the initial appellate review in Kentucky workers' compensation cases. Judge Alvey is also the President of the National Association of Workers' Compensation Judiciary (NAWCJ). He has an interesting vantage point on the challenges of adjudicating workers' compensation disputes, and a national perspective. With his permission, I am reprinting his thoughts and advice for adjudicators below (all that follows in italics is direct quote unless noted otherwise).  

It is also quite possible that others in the systems might take some wisdom from these thoughts. Some of this advice would be very helpful for adjusters, risk managers, doctors, lawyers and more. Some of the most universal thoughts are in red. 

As judges we must render decisions which provide income, medical and rehabilitation benefits to truly injured workers in a prompt, unbiased, fair and equitable manner. 

Second, while we all have important tasks to accomplish, no particular area is more important than the next. We cannot segregate individual fiefdoms, but must do the best we can with our individual parts of the process.

The key to being a judge is impartiality.

The goal is to do “exact justice according to the law”

Parties are entitled to a correct ruling based upon the circumstances, facts and law affecting the case, not by external forces or biases of the judge.

You must act all times in a manner which promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

Will you get it wrong??? Of course, but don’t get it wrong due to undue influence or impropriety.

We all get reversed. It happens. Shake it off and go on.

Every case involves real people with real issues which affect their lives.

Remember, “It ain’t about you.”

Finally, the following additional tips which I generally provide to judges is applicable to those involved in each step of the claim resolution process:

Be kind

Be patient

Be dignified

Be consistent

Be firm but fair

Don’t take yourself too seriously

A lazy judge is a poor judge

Don’t fear reversal

No case is unimportant

Be prompt

Use common sense

Pray for divine guidance

Never forget that the business of law is people.

Many parties are in a courtroom for the first time. Their view of the law and courts is shaped by television, the movies and the media

They know they want “justice,” but are unsure what you can provide.

Be conscious of the courtroom. It is our workplace, and is very familiar to both lawyers and judges, but is foreign soil for the parties and witnesses.

Communicate clearly. Get to the point

Remove emotion from your analysis

Enter orders/decisions without editorial comment

Recuse if necessary

Kentucky and the NAWCJ are fortunate to have Judge Alvey and so many like him. The efforts towards respect of office, purpose, and the people we serve is apparent in his writing, involvement and performance. In a system where a fair few develop periodic idiosyncrasies and curiosities, he is a stable, focused and professional leader. I appreciate his words above and his leadership of the NAWCJ these last two years. 

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