Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Godspeed Steve Rosen

As an attorney, I enjoyed my practice evolving to a statewide concern. I had incredible opportunities to litigate against attorneys in every corner of Florida in the 1990s. I thought at the time that I had a fairly broad exposure to the workers' compensation community. And, I was wrong. Despite my Jacksonville-based practice taking me to Miami, Ft. Myers, Pensacola, and all points in between, there were many lawyers on both sides of the practice that I never encountered. My years since have afforded many opportunities to meet and interact with many more. 

Obviously, a great part of my practice was in Jacksonville. Perhaps my reminiscence of that time is tinged by rose-colored lenses, but there were many positive attributes of that practice, that bar, and those people. I look back on my time there with great affinity. Having departed, it was not until taking this job that I had need to focus again on that community. 

In the early twenty-first century, Judge Anderson left the bench in Jacksonville. He had presided there for the duration of my memory. His style, and that of the Hon. Rhodes Gay, introduced me to this practice. The Hon. William Dane assumed his position, and Judge Harris remained. At the end of Judge Dane's term, the position was open yet again. Seemingly concurrently, though my memory fades,  Judge Harris announced retirement from the bench as well. Jacksonville District was entering a time of uncertainty. 

When the two vacancies were advertised, seventeen esteemed attorneys sought appointment. The ravages of inflation had not yet so markedly impacted the salary of a Judge of Compensation Claims, and the 2003 attorney fee constraints had not been ruled out. Judges Rosen and Pitts were appointed in Jacksonville in 2009, though neither was from or was practicing there. It was my first encounter with either, though each had been fixtures in Florida workers' compensation for decades.

Judges Rosen and Pitts were immediately embraced by the Jacksonville Bar. They brought stability and functionality to the operation of District Jacksonville. Their impact there cannot be overstated, as the timely determination of disputes evolved across the state. Their influence and dedication supported the professionalism in the community, enhanced the practice of law in that district, and benefited workers' compensation. 

Judge Rosen was soon quick to volunteer for coverage in Lakeland following Judge Mark Hofstad's appointment to the Circuit Bench. On his weekly trips back to Tampa, it became habit to stop in Lakeland for months until Judge Sojourner was appointed there. When Judge Lauren Hafner retired in St. Petersburg, Judge Rosen transferred there, and has served since. He was an early adopter of the video trial process and has undertaken trials throughout much of Florida using that technology, often on short notice. 

He has been what some would call "old school." Judge Rosen counts professionalism among his expectations. In my perspective, he is never as vexed as when a lawyer displays unprofessional behavior. He is quick to schedule an appearance (hearing or conference) in a situation where he perceives such behavior. He has been herculean in his management of the St. Petersburg docket since the 2013 budget cuts resulted in the loss of the second judicial position there. 

One notable aspect of Judge Rosen's long service will be in his adjudication of Matrix Employee Leasing, Inc. v. Hadley, 78 So. 3d 621, 622 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011), where he departed from the Court's earlier conclusions regarding maximum medical improvement, limitations on temporary benefits, and entitlement to permanent total disability. The First District reversed his conclusions, and Matrix was the law for a period. He was later presented with a similar situation, and followed the Matrix opinion assiduously. In the appeal of the resulting order, the First District again reversed him again as well as reversing its own precedent, resulting in Westphal v. City of St. Petersburg, 122 So. 3d 440, 441 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013); of course, the Florida Supreme Court later disagreed with the District Court and brought greater clarity to the law in its consideration of Westphal in 2016. This is notable as it illustrates his dedication to the law, his effort to ably interpret it, and his persistent determination to effectuate it. His efforts no doubt influenced the outcome of Westphal, and the current state of Florida law in this area, and beyond. 

Another notable attribute worth mention is Judge Rosen's encyclopedic memory of this community. Certainly, he remembers and recounts notable events, but many can do that. Judge Rosen, however, remembers the people in this community. His stories are focused upon individuals, their abilities, predilections, and peccadillos. But, he also remembers and exalts their achievements, involvements, and impacts. He is inherently focused on their successes, contributions, and victories. He reminds them, and celebrates them. He builds community through that remembrance and reinforcement. 

He has been a persistent lecturer and panel member throughout that career. His seeming preference was to be moderator of panel discussions, which he did with great aplomb before audiences large and small. Some came to refer to his moderation style as the "Rosen method," a tribute to his preparation and guile. He has been, perhaps, the Alex Trebek of the Florida workers' compensation lecture circuit.

Judge Rosen retires at the end of 2020. His twelve years of judicial service draws to a close in St. Petersburg, just a short bridge away from the Tampa district that predominated his career in the practice of law. December 31 will mark the close of (part of?) an extraordinary career culminated by public service of the highest order. 

Judge Rosen has been a member of The Florida Bar for 46 years (1974). Like most of us, he is not a Florida native. He attended college at Hamline University in St. Paul Minnesota, graduating in 1970. He moved to Houston Texas where he attended South Texas School of Law, graduating in 1974. Upon admission to The Florida Bar, he began practicing workers' compensation law in Tampa, Florida, where he later opened Stephen L. Rosen, P.A. 

His service to Florida includes membership on the initial Florida Bar Workers’ Compensation Board Certification Committee. The fact is that many of the most notable attorneys in this community are distinguished by the Board Certification designation in whose origins Judge Rosen participated. He also served as Chair of both The Florida Bar Workers’ Compensation Section and the Statewide Judicial Nominating Committee for Judges of Compensation Claims. He is also a founding member of the Florida Workers Advocates. 

Through a long and storied carrier, Judge Rosen has been part of the fabric of this community. He has been recognized for his service by organizations such as The Florida Bar Association, Best Lawyers, Super Lawyers, The College of Workers' Compensation Lawyers, and more. He was inducted by the Workers' Compensation Institute into the Florida Workers' Compensation Hall of Fame in the inaugural class. 

It is fair to say he and I have disagreed on the law, the rules, the practice, and more over the years. I find it connotative of his character that despite our disagreements, he has never been disagreeable. That is what "old school" is, in part. Lawyers should be able and ready to disagree, to advocate, and to compromise; all without being disagreeable. To be a professional is to make analyses, to express opinions, and to resolve challenges. 

I have been privileged to work with Judge Rosen over the last decade. In my estimation he has been a stalwart and hardworking adjudicator across the state and I both regret and celebrate his retirement. We all wish him the best, as we simultaneously welcome Judge Rita Young back to the St. Petersburgh District effective January 2021. Godspeed Judge Rosen, may the road rise up to meet you on whatever course you set.