Workers Comp Zone


PJs are important.

No, I’m not talking about pajamas.

I’m talking presiding judges. Each district office of the California Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board has a presiding workers’ comp judge, even the smaller “satellite” offices.

PJs are an important but largely unsung facet of the California workers’ comp system. Most PJs have a hearing calendar but also have a raft of other duties. Those include dealing with other WCJs in the district office and with the local WCAB staff. PJs are the liaison between the DWC’s Chief Judge, Paige Levy, and the district office.

This is a demanding job, particularly in the largest and busiest WCAB district offices. They deal with problem staff issues and problem calendaring issues.

Last week I attended the retirement dinner for Jacqueline Duncan, recently retired as PJ of the San Francisco board. It was a reminder of how critical the PJ position can be.

Many of the luminaries of the California workers’ comp bar were there, both employer-side and applicant side. Also there, at the Italian Athletic Club in San Francisco’s North Beach, were most of the current WCAB commissioners.

Duncan was feted for years of service. Among many outstanding efforts she bought to the San Francisco board was a sense of collegiality and a tone of seriousness of purpose. As several speakers noted, she had been preceded in the role by some outstanding PJs such as Al Williams, Richard Newman, Susan Hamilton and others.

Duncan did her best to create an atmosphere of professionalism among the litigants at the board.

There is an inherent informality in many Calfornia workers’ comp  proceedings. Judges do not wear robes.The courtrooms are usually pretty modest. At many boards there is a relatively small core of attorneys who specialize in workers’ comp litigation, and the attorneys, judges, and some of the employer reps tend to know each other well and to see each other repeatedly.

At larger boards there is often a more chaotic scene as the pool of attorneys, judges, and lien reps is significantly higher and the volume of cases each day is very high.

San Francisco is not a small board, but under the leadership of Duncan and her predecessors, the board there has managed to maintain a tenor that is largely “user friendly” for the attorneys and their clients.

In a big city such as San Francisco, that counts for a lot.

Good PJs should get a lot of respect.

There was an outpouring of that respect for Duncan at the sold-out dinner. The system needs PJs like her.

Stay tuned. In the next several weeks I’ll be blogging on a recent WCIRB study of the system’s costs and expenses. I’ll also be doing a mid-year analysis of the top developments in California workers’ comp during the first half of 2019.

Julius Young