Wednesday, February 26, 2014

We have to get along, it is a small sandbox

I heard a story recently in my travels. The story was of an experienced workers' compensation attorney whose behavior described in the story was not flattering. There are two sides to every story, and therefore I put no particular stock in the story as currently told by only one side. I find it interesting, and worthy of describing because the story helps to illustrate a fallacy that I have heard reiterated too many times over the years. 

In this alleged incidence, the experienced attorney became embroiled in a discovery dispute with another attorney. The situation proceeded through the usual efforts at obtaining the discovery, and devolved through the normal motion process, into the workers' compensation practice's "exceptional circumstances" process that required a hearing.

The root of the dispute described to me was unfortunate at best. This experienced attorney, if the story were true, allowed him/herself to be dragged into the weeds by the inappropriate behavior of a less experienced, but nonetheless tenacious attorney. Essentially, the scheduling of discovery appears to have devolved into a debate about who would get to "go first" in the discovery deposition process, and apparently as important to the two attorneys, who would get to go last, deposing his/her expert just before trial.

From the initial disagreement regarding the timing of the final expert depositions just before trial, the dispute between counsel allegedly flowered into a series of ancillary disagreements. According to the storyteller, by the time of the "exceptional circumstance" motion hearing, the two attorneys were no longer able to agree on what day of the week it was. Frustration had evolved to animosity and then to anger. Professionalism had taken a holiday, and the return ticket had been left open.

The outcome is not important. The behavior is also not important, even if completely true. What is important is that we will all make mistakes of judgement. We are all human and will lose our patience in certain situations periodically. As a Japanese proverb provides, "fall down seven times, get up eight." The point is that we will all stumble, and the secret of professional success is far more about the recoveries we make more than the failures we suffer. 

What I am pleased with in the story is that, as it was related to me, the experienced attorney recognized the fallacy of the anger. S/he rose above the dispute, though it took some time, and was the one in the course of the hearing process to propose a series of professional and mature compromises that allowed the two attorneys to move past the vast majority of their scheduling disputes. As I heard it, the judge still had to make a few decisions about some remaining differences, but was blessed by the presence of two attorneys who by then had grown out of the animosity and who made their arguments about the final disputes on the merits and without acrimony.

I was most proud of the description I got of the conclusion of the process. The judge announced the rulings and adjourned the hearing. As related to me, the two attorneys did what all attorneys should do after such a process, they shook hands. They put the angst and the anger aside and moved forward. That is professionalism. I do not suggest that they parted friends. We may not be able to evolve that far in all relationships. However, if we can't be at the friends end of the spectrum, we must avoid the enemy end also, and at least work in the middle where there is mutual respect and professionalism.

Certainly, not all disputes can be resolved without a judge's order (and sometimes an appellate court or two's opinion) and it is never easy to accept an outcome that you opposed. At the end of the day, however, remember that what is important is that you can only do what you can do. You can only change so much. In the movie Bull Durham, the simple philosophy was explained "sometimes you win, sometimes you lose and sometimes it rains." You will have good days and bad days in litigation and in life. Know these limitations, do your best, keep your chin up and retain your composure. And when it is over, shake your opponent by the hand and put it behind you. 

There will be another day, other disputes, other challenges. Live to fight the next battle with your dignity and your self-respect. It never pays to raise your blood pressure over things you cannot change. And remember, it is a relatively small sandbox. You are likely to run into these same people again. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Primary Care Provider, an Indispensable Role

A recent article highlighted the experience of a Harvard Medical School physician who got a "crash course" in the way American medical care is delivered.

"After falling down a flight of stairs, breaking his neck and nearly dying, a Massachusetts physician is now speaking out about the stark deficiencies he saw in his own treatment -- and how those shortcomings relate to more general problems he sees plaguing medical care in America."

Dr. Relman takes no issue with the care he received. He called his life-saving care "excellent." He noted that the physicians "simply refused to let (him) die." 

What he was surprised by was the ever present technology. He noted that his physicians were focused more on "the masses of data generated" by testing, than on him. He read the physicians' notes about his care, and "found only a few brief descriptions of how I felt or looked." His conversations with the physicians were "infrequent, brief and hardly ever reported." 

Dr. Relman did not feel like there was a single doctor overseeing the spectrum of his case. He says that "someone who knows the patient oversees their care," essentially coordinating the efforts of the various specialists. This should be the primary care physician. He contends that the absence of primary care from the experience "allows for fragmentation, duplication and lack of coordination of medical services." He laments the "growing national shortage of primary care physicians. 

While his experience is poignant due to his unique perspective as a physician, is it any different for anyone who suffers a traumatic injury and seeks care? Is the current state of workers' compensation medical care subject to the same concerns of "fragmentation, duplication and lack of coordination of medical services." Is there any one more critical element than the primary care physician, the occupational medicine physician, in  achieving the lofty goal of "quick and efficient delivery of disability and medical benefits to an injured worker and to facilitate the workers' return to gainful employment . . . .." Fla. Stat. 440.015?

It appears that the primary care physician is critical. That is a "take away" from his article. I would suggest that another "take away" should be that people need to be listened to, heard, and communicated with. I understand the role of diagnostic testing. I understand the role of data. But in the end, we all want someone to talk to about our maladies and illness and complaints. I suspect that this is important from a physical and psychological standpoint. 

Do we really need a doctor to explain this to us?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Will You Be My Friend?

When is it appropriate for a judge to "friend" someone involved in the cases before them? I would suggest that the answer is likely "never." Please disregard the seeming invitation in the title, it was merely to draw you in. The "judge friend" situation was recently illustrated by a Florida Circuit Judge, whose offer of "friend"ship was analyzed by the Fifth District Court of Appeal.

Chace v. Loisel, Case no. 5D13-4449 (Fla. 5th DCA 2014) is a divorce proceeding. During the litigation, the presiding judge sent an offer to one of the parties, the wife, and offered to "friend" her on Facebook. The wife ignored the request.

The use of Facebook by judges has been addressed before. In Domville v. State, 103 So.3d 184; r'hrg denied, 125 So.3d 178 (Fla. 4th DCA 2013), the presiding judge there accepted the assigned (in that judge's usual division) prosecutor's "friend" request.

The Fourth District Court noted in Domville that "central to the public's confidence in the courts is the belief that fair decisions are rendered by an impartial tribunal." Therefore, in that instance, the Court concluded that "a reasonably prudent defendant would fear (because the judge was the prosecutor's "friend") that he or she could not receive a fair and impartial trial, so that the defendant's motion for disqualification should be granted."

Essentially, a judge being a "friend" with the attorney for one party creates a problem that is best solved by the judge's disqualification or recusal, according to the Fourth DCA.
The Chace judge was not the invitee, but actually sent the invitation to one of the parties in the case. The judge was thereafter presented with a motion for disqualification (side note, when a judge removes himself or herself it is called a recusal, when a party seeks removal it is called disqualification). The judge denied the motion, but the Fifth DCA reversed and disqualified the judge who sent the offer of "friend"ship.

The Chace court noted that the Judge's offer of "friend"ship was an ex parte communication to the wife. That is not appropriate under Canon 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct. The Court also noted, however, that the offer placed the wife "between the proverbial rock and a hard place: either engage in improper ex parte communications with the judge presiding over the case or risk offending the judge by not accepting the 'friend' request."

Although the Chace court ordered the disqualification, it took issue with the Domville prohibition on facebook "friends," saying "We have serious reservations about the court’s rationale." They explained that in social media "friend" is a term of art and that it may not connote a "close relationship;" it could mean instead "virtual stranger." The Chace court noted that "Domville’s logic would require disqualification in cases involving an acquaintance of a judge." This, they concluded, could lead to disqualification under Domville that are "unworkable and unnecessary."
Of course, following the Domville decision, few if any judges remain exposed on the Facebook platform. Many have simply abandoned that platform and similar networking media like LinkedIn. Therefore, the Chace court's concern of unworkable and unnecessary disqualification may be inapplicable except when a judge acts inappropriately as in Chace.

The Court noted that the suggested distinction between Domville and Chace based upon the "friend"ship (offered or accepted) being between the judge and a party versus an attorney is "inconsequential," although the "friending" of a party "in a pending case raises far more concern than a judge’s Facebook friendship with a lawyer," essentially because of the ex parte nature of that communication, and the Canon's clear prohibition.

In the end, Domville remains the law in Florida. Judges should refrain from "friend"ships that could "create a well-founded fear of not receiving a fair and impartial trial in a reasonably prudent person." Chace suggests that this may not always remain the situation, and that "friend"ships may not remain so problematic for Judges forever. But Chace does not change Domville, and the prudent Judge will currently refrain (in case you missed the disclaimer above, the foregoing is in no way intended as an invitation to "friend"ship in any way, manner or description).

Monday, February 17, 2014

How will you take your profit?

Life is a series of cost/benefit analyses. We learned that in macro and micro economics in college. Today, high schools across Florida are offering economics education, a boon to the students that will proceed to college on a non-business degree track and therefore would otherwise miss the cost/benefit analysis education. 

Essentially, these analyses are merely a considered approach to determining how we proceed in life. Is the benefit to us commensurate with the cost of that activity, action or inaction on our part? We do it naturally as humans. A co-worker invites us to lunch ("everyone else is going, come on"). We have  a brief due, need to prepare for a conference call, have a client coming in at 1:00, etc. 

The cost of going to lunch is both financial (the can of tuna salad in our desk is paid for), and time. We analyze, consciously or otherwise, the benefit(s) of camaraderie, office solidarity, friendship, a break in the work, against the cost of lost work time, having to catch-up after (will I have to work at home tonight to make up for this?), etc. 

In this regard, our workday is a limited resource. Do what you may or will, there are just so many hours in the day. As a natural consequence, we each have to make decisions about what we will or will not do and then how we will prioritize what we will do. There is a natural process of excluding what we do not want (or perhaps do not like) to do. It is human nature to avoid the tasks that we do not enjoy. These tasks represent a cost to us, that is whatever else we could spend our time doing instead (called an "opportunity cost" in economics class). We are more likely to accept the costs of activities as the benefit there from increases. 

Benefits are likewise all in the eye of the beholder. One may value higher earnings, and what that will buy, more than another benefit. Some may instead value time. I realized many years ago, after escaping the confines of a law partnership that focused on what the partners valued, that I could decide for myself how I would take my "profit." 

While in the partnership, success and income was measured in billable hours, collected fees, and production of business. Time was expended in pursuit of these through a variety of tasks and efforts including legal work, mentoring of associates, marketing of the firm, and improvement of personal skills. These all were assigned value based upon a collective compromise among partners as to what should be considered important. It is fair to say that partners do not always agree on what is important, and either compromise or consequences are inevitable.

I realized after leaving that environment to form my own firm that I could instead accept my "profit," that is the extra, in time. It was a revelation I reflect upon today with some pride and with significant gratitude. Instead of the next billable hour, the next client lunch, the next seminar, I could take the afternoon off. This facilitated the ability to be integrally involved in the lives of my children. 

I rarely missed a ball game, and never missed a concert. I spent weekends on camping trips, and hours judging debate tournaments. Each such effort was an economic opportunity "cost," in that each minute spent thus was minute I did not work and earn money. Each also had a great benefit to me, and more so to the family which depended upon me (and more still which I depended upon). 

There has to be balance. You have to work enough to live, and to support those dependent upon you. You have to live enough to justify the work however. How do you take your profit? As much as I might wish for a convertible sports car, I think that the rewards of the family with which I have been privileged far outweigh the dream car I might have otherwise purchased.

Today, I see people continuing to struggle with the questions of how much time to spend working. I hear stories about missed family time and feelings of over commitments at work. Each of us will face the analysis of how we will take our profit. In the end, we are really answering the question of what is important to us. What is important to you?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

An Example of Judicial Discipline

When do judicial duties and retail mix? That is a trick question, they don't. Judge Hawkins is a County Court Judge, first elected in 1996. The Judge was accused of using her judicial office to promote a private business, failure to respect and comply with the law, failure to act in a manner promoting public confidence in the judiciary, failure to devote full attention to judicial office, and lack of candor with the The Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC). The JQC was asked to investigate.

The JQC is a fifteen member panel. Two members are chosen by the District Court of Appeal Judges, two are chosen by the Circuit Judges, and two are chosen by the County Court Judges. Four must be lawyers chosen by The Florida Bar Board of Governors. The final five are non-lawyers chosen by the Governor.

According to the JQC website, the "Commission is an independent agency created by the Florida Constitution solely to investigate alleged misconduct by Florida state judges." On January 27, 2014, the JQC issued its Findings, Conclusions and Recommendations in the Inquiry Concerning Judge Judith Hawkins.

The JQC concluded the Judge was guilty of promoting the sale of her private business' products in the courtroom, in the courthouse, to attorneys appearing before the judge, and using the judicial position to promote the sales.

Judge Hawkins was also accused of reading magazines while presiding over jury trials. "when questioned," the judge explained that there was no harm in this as she "could cover" her "lack of attentiveness by asking counsel to rephrase the objection."

Judge Hawkins was accused of devoting "less than (her) full time and full attention to (her) judicial duties." The Judge allegedly has "a great deal of time" and so felt "free to use judicial chambers and out-of-court free time to conduct (her) for-profit business . . .."

After allegations were made, the Judge was accused of deleting subpoenaed financial records, misleading the investigative panel, refusing to turn over financial data, misleading through incompleteness, lacking candor, and obfuscating discovery.

The JQC stated that "The instant case presented a very close call between "removal" and "discipline." They concluded that she "made knowingly misleading statements to the FJQC investigative panel and its investigator," destroyed evidence" and "refused to produce subpoenaed records even after multiple orders." They concluded "this conduct is the antithesis of respect for the law that Judge Hawkins has sworn to uphold.

The JQC recommended that the Supreme Court impose:

(1) a public reprimand;

(2) a three month suspension without pay; and

(3) a $17,000 fine.

According to records of the Florida Department of Management Services, judge Hawkins earns about $138,019.92 per year. This equates to about $378.14 per day. So, ninety days of pay is about $34,032.60.

Recently, the Supreme Court has taken a tougher stand regarding attorney discipline. More on that coming in a post soon. Will the Court accept the FJQC recommendation in this instance and impose this significant fine and public reprimand, or will the Court remove this judge whose chosen behavior "is the antithesis of respect for the law?"

Monday, February 10, 2014

Medical Fees "out of whack"

The phrase "out of whack" is interesting. According to the Urban Dictionary, this means "something that doesn't make sense." Periodically, there are stories in the news that suggest American medical care is out of whack.  

The New York Times reported January 18, 2014 that "Patients' Costs Skyrocket; Specialists' Income Soar." The story follows the tribulations of a patient that had a tiny spot removed from her face at the Arkansas Skin Cancer Center. The removal ended up with billed charges of $25,000, and to some extent was accomplished by forcing the patient to participate. In the words of the patient, she "felt like a hostage."

The Times notes that "Many specialists have become particularly adept at the business of medicine by becoming more entrepreneurial, protecting their turf through aggressive lobbying by their medical societies, and most of all, increasing revenues by offering new procedures — or doing more of lucrative ones."

In this particular instance, a dermatologist removed the tiny spot, then declined to suture the wound. For that the patient had to visit the office of a plastic surgeon across the street. Despite the fact that the patient did not want a plastic surgeon. 

At the plastic surgeon's, she got an IV tube placed, and met the anesthesiologist, was anesthetized and the wound closed. The charges included $1,833 for the removal of the skin lesion, $14,407 for the plastic surgeon, $1,000 for the anesthesiologist, and $8,774 for the hospital. Though she preferred the dermatologist put in a few stitches or that the wound be allowed to close on its own, she received all of this care. She felt she had no choices. Afterward, she spent months negotiating the bills and eventually paid much less. She also declined to return to those physicians for follow-up care. Apparently making your patient feel like a hostage does not build confidence or loyalty.

Use of this removal surgery, called Mohs, has "skyrocketed in the United States," increasing about 400 percent in the last ten years. Hospitals have offered an average of about $600,000 to hire dermatologists to perform these Mohs procedures. The article cites other examples, almost $1,000 to scrape off a mole (no stitches required) and $500 to freeze off a wart. Dermatologists are now the "fourth-highest earners in American medicine." The lowest earners? That would be the primary care physicians that are on the front-line of medical care, managing a vast array of conditions and complaints. 

The Times notes that "specialists earn an average of two and often four times as much as primary care physicians in the United States, a differential that far surpasses that in all other developed countries." They note that "more specialists mean more tests and more expensive care." According to a health economics professor at Georgetown University, there is an inclination to maximize reimbursement and "each patient is like an ATM machine."

There are cost drivers mentioned also. The Times notes that "new doctors graduate with an average of about $150,000 in debt" and that "some specialists face malpractice premiums of over $100,000 a year." These are noteworthy factors. But why are there not more medical schools opening, why is the supply of doctors not increasing to meet the demand or perceived demand?

The reimbursement allowed for various procedures and specialties is tied in some part to the reimbursement that Medicare allows. That valuation is "based on a complex algorithm that is intended to take into account the time and skill required to perform a medical task, with an adjustment made for a specialty’s malpractice rates." 

Is the process out of whack? Medicare has a list of "potentially misvalued," which the Times characterizes as "overused or overpriced." Medicare has put the Mohs procedure at the top of this list. So there is a process in place to identify and perhaps deal with pricing issues. But they note that "750 lobbyists represent groups of health professionals in Washington, pushing back on any effort to limit their incomes." According to the Times, these groups spend about $80 million annually to promote their interests and their incomes. 

Eighty million dollars! Would there be a need for such expenditures if the procedures were appropriate, necessary, justified? Well, there will always be a pressure to reduce costs, and so there is the argument that payers would resist even those that are necessary and justified. Ultimately, the system we have chosen, in which the consumer (patient) is not the payer, creates and facilitates dysfunction and discourages normal market economic effects. In such a system, lobbyists have assumed a major role.

From the descriptions in the article, it seems that the reimbursement system is indeed in need of revision. Whether that is possible with the competition among the vast array of competing interests remains to be seen. With the United State's annual medical bill at $2.7 trillion, the motivation to assure that our expenditures are appropriate and necessary seems obvious from some perspectives. 

In a system driven by lobbyists is any true reform practical, or will we continue with a process of ever shifting regulation, with armies of consultants paid to teach doctors an hospitals how to correspondingly shift their practices to maximize reimbursement within the confines of each new iteration of regulations? 

What if consumers (patients) had more of a say in what care they consumed? Can supply and demand ever become relevant to American medical care?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

What Concerns Lawyers Today?

The Florida Bar conducted a survey in 2013. The response rate was 30%, which is significant in these types of surveys. 

They asked attorneys questions that are repeated in each of their surveys, the last one being two years ago (2011). Some of the responses provide a look into the perceptions of attorneys regarding the legal profession in Florida. 

To the question "What do you believe are the three most serious problems faced by the legal profession today?" 49% of the respondents in 2013 said "too many attorneys." When that question was asked in 2011, only 33 % of the lawyers chose that response. The number two response in 2013 was "difficult economic times" at 31% (down from 32% in 2011) followed by "poor public perception at 26% (up from 23% in 2011). The remainder of the list (with 2011 comparison in parenthesis) was: affordability of legal services 24% (21%); lack of ethics/professionalism 23% (32%); court overload 21% (28%); lawyer advertising 21% (21%); frivolous lawsuits 19% (15%); lack of appropriate judicial system funding 19% (26%); Quality of the judiciary 16% (16%) over-emphasis on billable hours 13% (11%); threat to judicial independence 13% (16%); client expectations 11% (11%); access to the Courts 9% (9%); quality of beginning attorneys 7% (n/a); other 5% (5%). 

The surveyed attorneys were also asked to opine on the issues that will have the greatest impact on the legal profession in the next five years. The leading answer was "oversaturation of attorneys" with 39%, compared to 23% in 2011. Technology came in a distant second at 14%, compared to 18% in 2011, and a much more significant 36% in 2009. The remainder of the responses to this question (with 2011 percentages in parentheses) were: access/affordability of legal resources 10% (7%); competition from non-attorneys 9% (7%) lack of appropriate judicial system funding 8% (15%); the economy 6% (14%); public perception 5% (4%); threat to judicial independence 5% (7%) tort reform 3% (4%); and other 1% (1%). 

The anxiety of technology's invasion of the profession is moderating, while the anxiety of increasing competition among attorneys is significant and rising.

Asked to identify the three most significant personal challenges or concerns, 34% of attorneys selected "balancing family and work" compared to 35% in 2011. Second was "high stress" at 30%, down from 31% in 2011. Time management was third on the list at 22%, unchanged from 2011. The remainder of the list of personal challenges (with 2011 percentages in parentheses) were: net revenue 21% (23%);  client expectations 19% (15%); keeping up with new technology 19% (19); lack of business 18% (19%); retirement planning 16% (13);  billable hours 15% (15%);  lack of available employment opportunities 14% (13);  interaction with other attorneys 13% (10%);  keeping up with new developments in law 13% (17%);  lack of ethics/professionalism 13% (21%);  frivolous lawsuits 7% (6%);  interaction with the judiciary 7% (6%); Other 7% (7%).

Revenue is a personal challenge. The time we spend working is the most significant personal concern. Those early morning and late evening depositions, missed soccer games, and working through the weekend are taking their toll.

The respondents overwhelmingly responded, 85%, that lawyer advertising negatively affects the public's view of lawyers and the profession, while 4% felt that advertising positively affects their view. this response has been reasonable consistent over the course of surveys in 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2011.  Even among attorneys whose own firm participates in advertisement, 76% believed that advertising negatively affects the public's view of lawyers.

The Bar is in the midst of more litigation about advertising right now. The majority of attorneys are concerned about the effects of it, but the ability of the state to restrict it will be measured against the Constitution's protections. The outcome will be interesting. 

Asked which forms of advertising most negatively affect the public's view, the top answer was television at 63%. billboards were a distant second at 17%, and mobile ads on buses or taxis came in third at 5%. Sixty-nine percent of respondents said that current regulations on lawyer advertising in Florida were "too liberal."  Despite the feelings about advertising, the percentage of firms that engage in advertising has increased from 34% in 2005 to 41% in 2013. 

In all, the survey held few surprises. I hear many of the same concerns when I meet lawyers around the state. They voice similar concerns about their volume of business, their rising expenses, their investment in technology (and the training that it entails), and their uncertainty about the future of the profession. 

So, knowing what concerns attorneys, what do we do now?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Child Support Reminders

The child support paradigm change last year is producing a few questions. They are not frequent, but there are recurring themes. Addressing them in this forum is perhaps the best method to bring clarity to the marketplace. If you have been in conversations with colleagues about child support and the information process, email them a link to this (just scroll your mouse across the address bar, click your left mouse button and copy, open an email message and left click your mouse to paste).

Why are the Department of Revenue (DOR) figures often different from the clerk of court figures? The DOR maintains a database of child support arrearage. They are primarily monitoring the funds that are paid to parents or guardians by the variety of state benefit programs. These include Women Infants and Children (WIC), food stamps, and others. When such programs provide benefits to someone who should be receiving child support, the state is interested in having those benefit funds repaid in part when that child support is eventually recovered. The DOR figures may be limited to these benefit expenditures, but may also include the amounts that are reported to DOR by the Clerks.

The Clerks of Courts all use a statewide child support database. They each accumulate and compile data regarding child support cases and upload that data to the statewide database. When a clerk is asked for child support arrearage information, they will access this database, into which all Clerks have loaded their data and then they report the data that is reflected there. The data that is reflected in the database results from their various data inputs. That is, the quality of what comes out of the database is dependent upon the quality of the data that was input over time. Garbage in, garbage out as the saying goes.

When a party to one of our workers’ compensation cases asks for child support arrearage information today, the OJCC is drawing data from this same database. Any argument that parties must consult with the clerk of courts to assure the latest data is based on a false premise. The Clerks of courts have no more current data than that which the OJCC is accessing and reporting. The data available to the clerk is identical to the data available to the OJCC. They have no more current data than we have.

There is also an issue of inclusiveness. As we have entered the new paradigm, and learned of the use of this statewide database, we have seen a variety of treatments by various court clerks. When queried, this statewide database reports all amounts that are reflected as unpaid. This may include interest, service charges, and other fees that are not in the truest sense “support.” Some clerk's office around the state include all of these figures when they complete a support report. Others do not include anything except the actual support. This diversity in the Clerk's practices means that there has historically been little consistency in reporting across the broad expanse of Florida geography.

There are also out-of-state arrearages registered with the clerks, and therefore added to the database. These are sometimes not updated in the Florida database when payments are received against those arrearages in that other state. For instance, someone registers a Georgia arrearage in some Florida county, such as Duval (Jacksonville) County. The payor of the child support would make payments to the recipient or depository in Georgia, and Georgia's records should be appropriately adjusted with those payments. It is possible and even likely that the Duval County records would not be adjusted, and the out-of-state arrearage may be reflected long after it is satisfied. With out-of-state, keep in mind that a Georgia clerk, with a limited volume of hours to process paperwork, has more interest in processing and sending out arrears to spur collection than in processing and sending out proof of satisfaction of previous arrears, to correct the Florida records.

The steps are simple, request child support information from the OJCC by filing a request form. The format is on the OJCC website, www.fljcc.org, under the forms tab. The vast majority of these requests will return a "no response" meaning that there is no record of an arrearage. Of the minority which return an arrearage due, most will involve a straightforward situation which will represent a figure that is reasonably recognizable to the injured worker and you can proceed with settlement. A small minority will involve a figure that the injured worker does not recognize or protests. In those instances, you may request a more detailed report from the OJCC by filing a simple motion for more detailed child support information. This can yield you the figure elements that result in the total.

The involvement of the Circuit and County Clerk at this point in our history is limited to the situation in which the injured worker contests the amount of child support due. That is, when some adjustment to the database is appropriate. It the injured worker believes that the amount is wrong, only the Circuit Court can change that. This is because the OJCC access to the statewide database is "read" access. Our staff can access the content of the database, but we cannot change the content. Therefore, if an error is discovered, the Circuit and County Clerk is the appropriate entity to change the database to correct the error. 

That does not mean you are stuck with the outcome reflected in the database. Judges of Compensation Claims are bound to consider the child support arrears. Recently I received a call from an attorney whose client is a support recipient. Due to an error in the Clerk's office where the client lives, the public record says the recipient is instead someone who owes child support. Many documents refute this error. The claimant lacks the funds, however, to hire a marital attorney to straighten the error just to proceed with settlement. So, set that out in a motion to the JCC and attach the proof that the Clerk is in error. Whether to grant the motion, that is to approve the settlement with no child support withheld, is within the sound discretion of the assigned JCC.

You can always email me (david.langham@doah.state.fl.us) with questions or concerns, or contact askojcc@doah.state.fl.us.