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The Division of Workers’ Compensation has posted the 2013 ethics advisory committee’s annual report on its web site. The workers’ compensation ethics advisory committee is a state committee independent from the DWC that is charged with reviewing and monitoring complaints of misconduct filed against workers’ compensation administrative law judges. The ethics advisory committee is required to make a public report each year summarizing activities in the previous calendar year. WCALJs are not subject to review by the California Commission on Judicial Performance, the agency which is responsible for investigating misconduct complaints directed at judges serving on the Supreme, Superior and Appellate courts.The Ethics Advisory Committee is composed of nine members, each appointed by the Administrative Director of the DWC’s for a term of four years. The EAC is assisted in carrying out its functions by an attorney and secretary on the staff of the DWC.

Any person may file a complaint with the EAC. Complaints must be presented in writing and the EAC will accept anonymous complaints. An EAC case is typically opened as a result of receipt by the DWC of a letter from an injured worker, an attorney, or lien claimant who has been a party to a proceeding before a workers’ compensation administrative law judge employed by the DWC and the complaint alleges ethical misconduct by the WCALJ. In 2013, the DWC had authority over 167 active judges in 24 district office locations. The EAC considered a total of 34 of the 37 new complaints it received in the calendar year of 2013, in addition to 3 complaints pending from 2012. Most of the complaints (24) were filed by unrepresented workers. Two each were filed by applicant and defense attorneys.

Of the 33 resolved complaints, the EAC identified one complaint resulting in judicial misconduct. In that case an unrepresented applicant, complained that the judge threatened and harassed the complainant, and the complainant claimed his well-being was in danger. Complainant attached the transcript of the hearing wherein the judge stated, “if you interrupt me one more time, you will deeply regret it. I have been sitting trying to say things, and you have been constantly interrupting me. I am on the bench, and I will suffer no more interruptions.” Complainant alleged that the judge said this in a very loud voice. Following its review of the complaint, the Committee identified an ethical violation of the Code of Judicial Ethics. Based upon that conclusion, the Committee has recommended further action. Appropriate action has taken place.

One of the more interesting situations that were not resolved involves an anonymous complainant who complained that the judge acted unprofessionally during hearings in the courtroom. At a hearing, a brand new attorney, accompanied by a senior member of the firm, was making a first appearance before the judge. When the young attorney was introduced, the judge loudly questioned the young attorney in front of all parties present as to whether or not the attorney had been informed by other members of the bar that the WCALJ is a “real bitch.” Parties in the courtroom were shocked and dismayed by the judge’s unprofessional behavior. The complaint was made anonymously because of the fear of retaliation by the judge. This was one of three complaints filed after the Final EAC meeting of 2013. The outcome of this complaint will no doubt appear in next years report.