$4.25 for a San Francisco Hilton Hotel luncheon featuring Filet of Sole or Beef Bourguigonne?
Not in 2016, that’s for sure, in a town where bunk bed spaces get rented to techies for thousands.
But mentally transport yourself back to 1966, some 50 years ago.
It was then that the newly formed California Applicants’ Attorneys Association held its first official meeting.
The group had been formed in Southern California for some time through the efforts of Eugene Marias and others, but it was 1966 when the Northern California chapter was created and the statewide organization formed. Officers were elected (Steven Rosenman and Lowell Airola were the first presidents), by-laws adopted, and a seminar and cocktails followed (at the bottom of this post is a schedule for that day’s event).
Thus began an organization which has been a tenacious advocate for individuals who are hurt on the job or who contract occupational diseases. CAAA ‘s mission is to “improve the advocacy, promote the skill, and preserve high standards of ethics of attorneys representing injured workers, and by extension to assist injured workers in obtaining full and just benefits under the workers’ compensation laws of the State of California.”
CAAA’s 2016 Winter Convention at Rancho Mirage celebrated this 50th anniversary, feting many of the past presidents of the organization (see link at the bottom of this post to a photo gallery of the past presidents, which doesn’t include my law partner Bert Arnold, CAAA’s current president).
Included in the photo gallery of past presidents are some of my mentors through the years, Eugene Treaster of Sacramento , who introduced me to the workers’ comp field, my law partner Michael Gerson, one of the founding partners at Boxer & Gerson, Barry Williams, who practiced at Boxer & Gerson before passing away, and Frank Russo, currently associated with Boxer & Gerson.
Also there are creative attorneys who never wavered in steadfast advocacy for the rights of individuals, attorneys such as Bill Herrerras, Mike Rucka, Marc Marcus, Arthur Johnson and Larry Silver.
CAAA has been a ferociously tenacious organization. California goes through political and economic cycles where workers’ comp is a hot potato. Through former legislative advocate Don Green and current political/legislative consultants Richie Ross and Mike Herald, CAAA has usually been on good terms with Capitol legislative leadership.
But notably, CAAA has had rocky relationships with Governors Brown, Reagan, Deukmejian, Wilson, Schwarzenegger, and currently, Brown again.This has led to ongoing pitched legislative battles where CAAA had to be nimble to form alliances or find itself out-muscled.
Sometimes that worked out for CAAA and sometimes it didn’t.
The organization was called a “fly on a gnat’s ass” by a Brown adviser in the 1970s who to this day sits on appellate court panels hearing important workers’ comp cases.
For a “fly on a gnat’s ass” the organization has been amazingly influential and resilient. Much credit for this is due to the steady hand of its executive Director Karen Locke, who has served in that role since 1987. Ms. Locke has managed the organization well.
The organization sponsors an impressive array of seminars and conferences with some of the top minds in the field.
Over time, CAAA grew and grew so that now there are 19 local CAAA chapters stretching from Shasta to the Coachella Valley.
Along the way CAAA fought battles over staffing levels at the WCAB, skirmishes on worker rights to maintain a choice of treating doctor, battles over the QME process and disputes over reforming benefit levels. Vocational retraining benefits came and went, later replaced by a smaller retraining voucher.
Like many other public interest advocacy groups, CAAA spends much energy fighting off legislation and policies it opposes. And so it’s not always easy to know what sort of system CAAA would design if it had the license to design a comprehensive system re-do by waving a magic wand. Getting a consensus at CAAA is not always easy.
CAAA also operates in an environment where not all applicant attorneys are CAAA members and where the system has been plagued in recent years by allegations of bad behavior of some stakeholders, including medical providers and perhaps some attorneys.
I’ve seen major changes in CAAA over the years. Originally top heavy with Southern California leadership, in recent years a number of Northern California attorneys have risen to prominence. Women and Latinos are increasingly prominent in CAAA. Some of the “old lions” retired or passed away, giving rise to a new generation of applicant attorneys. Important voices such as insurance consultant Mark Gerlach retire. Term limits create new legislative challenges and alliances. Relationships with labor union officials, often rocky, have been getting better in the last few years.
While industry think tanks and employer and insurer-side organizations focused on the overall trends and costs of the system, CAAA maintained its steadfast focus on the rights and benefits of the individual worker.
Where will CAAA be in 10 or 20 years? No one knows, and that’s a topic for speculation on another day.
For the moment, though, as CAAA turns 50 it’s a record to merit pride and celebration by CAAA and a nod of respect from many of the system’s stakeholders.
Here is the invitation to the 1966 founding CAAA lunch:
And here is a photo gallery of past CAAA presidents:
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