There have been fluctuations in the experience on the Florida workers' compensation bench. I noted this in April 2018. As the OJCC contemplated the retirement of Judge Lazzara, one of the longest-serving JCCs, the average years of experience decreased to 7.7 years. On January 2, 2020 the Office will re-open from the new years holiday. And, there will not be 32 judges in the system, to which we have become accustomed.
The Statewide Judicial Nominating Commission has advertised two vacancies: in Tampa (to replace Judge Lorenzen, who retired) and in Panama City (to replace Judge Walker, who will transfer to Pensacola to replace Judge Winn later in 2020 when a new Panama City judge is named). When those two new judges are appointed, and each presumably have "0" years judicial experience, the average will be 7.4 years experience. In 2021, the average is expected to again exceed 8.2 years. Each year, we collectively gain 32 more year's experience, but inevitably, seemingly, retire someone with extensive experience as well.
Looking back, the average judicial experience on our bench has fluctuated significantly over the years. Judges come and go. A very, very few stay for a time that could be considered a career (over 20 years).
In 2018, the experience average was 8.6 years.
In 2016, the experience average was 11.1 years.
In 2014, the experience average was 10.7 years.
In 2012, the experience average was 11.8 years.
In 2010, the experience average was 10.7 years.
In 2008, the experience average was 10.1 years (there was a prolonged vacancy in Orlando at that time)
In 2006, the experience average was 9.6 years.
In 2004, the experience average was 8.9 years.
In 2002, the experience average was 7.5 years.
Thus, the experience on the workers' compensation bench on January 2, 2020 will be the lowest since 2002. That is not to say that our current bench is not exceptional, it is in various ways. There are several judges who serve today that have decades of experience presiding. Notable among them are Daniel Lewis (FTL)(32 years), Diane Beck (SAR)(24 years), Wilbur Anderson DAY)(22 years), and Sylvia Medina-Shore (MIA)(20 years).
Reaching the 20 year mark is itself exceptional. The OJCC is fortunate to have these "deans" of the bench remaining after such service. Change is inexorable, however, and with each year of gained experience or seniority a jurist moves closer to that inevitable change - retirement.
It is notable that the nominating commission has recently nominated three attorneys to replace Judge Beck in Sarasota following her retirement in the spring. Her long service, the stability that it has engendered, coming to a close there. Her experience and expertise leaves us. And, a new judge will join this Office bringing new perspective to that district specifically, and a new diversity to us all.
One of our challenges is to retain judges, and their experience. Coming years will bring retirements of others. Over the history of this Office, as best we can determine, only 20 of the 228 known to have served have reached 20 years of service (less than 20%). Only three have reached 30 years. I am asked periodically whether I anticipate this or that particular judge remaining on the bench in some particular districts. My reply is consistently that I hope for each of the judge's continued service. But, that is not realistic. Retirement will come to us all eventually. Change is the only constant. It is exacerbated in this instance by the effect inflation has effected on OJCC salaries over the last 20 years. See Inflation and Legislative Budgeting.
I post today in appreciation of all of our judges, long-serving and relatively new, and to remind that change is inevitable. It is axiomatic that each of the Florida workers' compensation judges once had her/his first day on the job, first trial, first reversal and affirmance by the District Court. And, each will have her or his last of these also. Each is an integral part of this Office. Not one of us is perfect or infallible. Each gains experience and knowledge every day, as the calendar marches onward. I encourage us to remember that similarly, every organization, business, law firm, medical practice, etc. evolves, grows, and transitions.
The new year dawns with our anticipation of change. We know it is coming in 2020 to Panama City, Pensacola, and Sarasota. We harden ourselves against the underlying truth that change is persistent and that the future will eventually come for us all, as it has for just over 200 Florida workers' compensation judges before us. And, in the meantime we remain fortunate to have the assemblage of intellect, experiences, and dedications currently on our bench.
I am hopeful that the legislature will see fit in 2020 to address the historical salary inequities of our judges and thereby help this system recruit and retain the best adjudicators possible. We will be watching House Bill (HB) 1049 and Senate Bill (SB) 1298 this spring. While neither of these will mandate ongoing future salary parity for the Florida judges, each would provide the funding to alleviate the effects of Twenty-First Century inflation. Each is an appropriate and appreciated effort to recognize the workload and effort of this relatively tiny Office and the essential function that it performs, quietly, persistently, and effectively. Through retention, the experience on our bench should thrive.