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The Division of Workers’ Compensation has posted the 2017 ethics advisory committee’s annual report. 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.

As civil servants, workers’ compensation administrative law judges (WCALJs or judges) are not subject to review by the California Commission on Judicial Performance, the agency responsible for investigating misconduct complaints against supreme, superior, and appellate court judges. Instead, it is the EAC that monitors and reviews complaints of judicial misconduct filed against WCALJs.

Of the 34 complaints reviewed by the EAC, misconduct was found in five of them. Many of the complaints involved allegations of rude, abrasive or other inappropriate conduct by judges in courtrooms, mostly toward attorneys, at at times toward claimants.

For example, in one case, an applicant claimed the WCJ showed racial prejudice because “as soon as the judge saw complainant’s spouse, before asking any other questions, the judge asked, ‘Do we need an interpreter?’ Complainant’s spouse felt insulted by being regarded as a non-English-speaking person based solely upon the spouse’s appearance and perceived race.”

The same claimant had further problems during trial. ” At several points during the trial, the judge stopped the proceedings and requested to go off the record. Complainant complained that, with arms flailing, the judge used a loud voice directed at complainant and complainant’s attorney.”

In this case, the EAC identified violations of Canons 2A, 3B(7) and 3B(8) of the Code of Judicial Ethics and recommended to the CJ that appropriate action be taken.

In another illustrative case an applicant’s attorney, complained that the judge was prejudiced against the attorney’s firm. The judge would scold the applicant’s attorney in front of the applicant and the defense. The judge’s diatribes concerned what the judge thought the applicant’s firm had done incorrectly in the past. Similar examples were given in other specific litigated cases before the same judge.

In this case, the committee also identified violations of the Code of Judicial Ethics and recommended to the CJ that appropriate action be taken.

Many of the complaints found no ethical violations. Typically, they were based upon complaints about the merits of the claim, asserting the WCJ made the wrong decision. 29 cases were reviewed where no violation was found.