Workers Comp Zone


Governor Brown has finally filled one of the open slots on California’s Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board.

However, in a move that has puzzled many in the industry, the nod went to an apparent old Brown friend who has no apparent legal training or workers’ comp industry experience.

On June 22, Brown’s office issued the following press release:

“Juan Pedro Gaffney, 80, of Sebastopol, has been appointed to the California Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board. Gaffney has been a member of the California Alcoholic Beverage Control Appeals Board since 2017 and director at Coro Hispano de San Francisco since 1975. He was director of Hispanic liturgy at Mission Dolores from 1993 to 2008 and was the first artist-in-residence at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Gaffney was an associate professor of philosophy at St. Joseph’s College and a lecturer at Saint Mary’s College from 1972 to 1996. Gaffney is a vice president of the Instituto Pro Música de California. He earned a Master of Arts degree in music from Stanford University. This position requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $147,778. Gaffney is a Democrat.”

Over the years there have been a handful of non-attorneys on the board, but that has been rare.

Mr. Gaffney is obviously a very accomplished individual, and I wish him well. I asked around about the appointment this week. The view of some folks I’ve talked to is that he may turn out to be be a very fair individual who looks at the system with a fresh set of eyes.

Others I spoke to didn’t have anything against Gaffney personally but faulted Brown for essentially disrespecting the California workers’ comp bar and workers’ comp industry by appointing someone with no knowledge on workers’ comp. In their view the position is too important to be used as a political spoil or as a reward for cronyism.

WCAB slots are working commissioners. There were some problems a decade ago when one of the commissioners lived in Los Angeles and was said to have “phoned it in”. Of course, mitigating any lack of workers’ comp experience is that the WCAB continues to have a deep bench of experienced staff attorneys and deputy commissioners. But if an individual has no experience then one wonders how quickly they can get up to speed and be a credible member of the board.

If Gaffney is really motivated then he may surprise us all. If not, it could be a rough ride.

Ultimately the Governor can and has done what he wants. One wonders what other surprises might be in store during the final 6 months of 2018.

Stay tuned. I’ll be blogging in the coming weeks on the recent WCIRB report on 2017 results as well as doing my mid-year assessment of the top California workers’ comp developments in 2018.

Julius Young