Selective publication is the legal process which a judge or justices of a court decide whether a decision is to be or not published in an official reporter. Unpublished opinions, are those decisions of courts that are not available for citation as precedent. Every day in California, lawyers engaging in legal research come across that perfect case that makes that key point – only to realize that the case is “unpublished.” California Rules of Court 8.1115(a) provides that any decision that is not certified for publication (or not ordered published) “must not be cited or relied on by a court or a party in any other action.” However the WCAB does not have a similar Rule. Nonetheless, published opinions are clearly controlling law.
The Court of Appeal decision last month in Ogden Entertainment Services v. WCAB answers the question of when is an expedited hearing too expedited. It also makes clear the mandate that due process of law protections are alive and well at the WCAB. The case was initially unpublished. However, a petition by Tim Morgan Esq., at Floyd, Skeren and Kelly to have the case published was just granted, and the case is now fully citable law in all California courts.
Kristian Von Ritzhoff sustained injuries while working as a banquet server in 1996. Orthopedic injuries were admitted and psychiatric injury denied. The PTP found Ritzhoff’s right ankle permanent and stationary as of October 25, 2005. Save for its significance as the origin of Ritzhoff’s psychiatric injuries, the orthopedic injury dropped out of consideration thereafter.
Ritzhoff has been representing himself since 1998. At the expedited hearing of May 18, 2006 the defendant began to cross-examine him. However, the WCJ terminated cross-examination over the defendant’s objection and even though the defendant had not finished because of alleged time constraints arising from the expedited nature of the hearing. The WCJ also noted that the videotape the defendant sought to have admitted was “more appropriate for later cross-examination (of a doctor and/or applicant as to accuracy of his history) rather than at this stage of the proceedings.” Nonetheless the WCJ found Ritzhoff temporarily totally disabled from a psychiatric injury based upon a 1999 medical report. The WCAB denied reconsideration of this order.
There now followed three hearings. The first two focused on whether Ritzhoff was psychiatrically permanent and stationary and thus no longer entitled to TTD. The third hearing ended with the finding that Ritzhoff was 100% disabled. Ritzhoff refused to be cross-examined at all three of these hearings.
The Court of Appeal reversed and remanded in the now published case. “For two centuries past, the policy of the Anglo-American system of Evidence has been to regard the necessity of testing by cross-examination as a vital feature of the law.” “We address in this case therefore nothing less than one of the fundamental guarantees of a fair trial or, as in this case, a fair hearing, for there is no doubt that the right of cross-examination is guaranteed to the parties in workers’ compensation proceedings.” “Give what the purposes of cross-examination are, we must correct the misperception shared by the WCJ and the appeals board that, as a layperson, Ritzhoff had nothing to add as a witness.” “The importance of cross-examination as a means of testing and attacking the credibility of a witness is undiminished in the modern era.”
Indeed, the Court of Appeal unraveled the case to a point earlier than the last hearing by stating “The appeals board’s view that the defense should have sought review of its decision regarding cross-examination following the first and second hearings ignores the plain fact these were not final decisions of the appeals board and thus were not reviewable in this court under the aegis of a writ of review.”