Rather than my daily rant about workers' compensation, I am taking today to remember something special - the day my professional and personal life changed irrevocably; the day I became indoctrinated into the California workers' compensation system and the work comp industry.
I got the news late yesterday evening that former California Workers' Compensation Judge Larry Greenblatt had died.
Judge Greenblatt served as the Presiding Judge at the Ventura and Agoura Boards and after his retirement, as an annuitant in Marina Del Rey.
Judge Greenblatt was also my introduction into workers' compensation, and what an introduction it was.
I was a very young lawyer at the time, having just been admitted to the bar several months earlier. My focus for the law firm, Miller & Folse, at the time was real estate and business litigation. The firm's dedication was workers' compensation - primarily defense but we also handled many applicant cases too. The firm's partners, John Miller and Rene Folse, wanted to expand the scope of practice of the firm so I was the youngster that was going to help them do that.
I was having a nice quiet afternoon in the office, reviewing a case file and preparing answers to some interrogatories when Miller came into my office with a big fat accordion file.
"David, I don't have any lawyers here except for you and I need you to take this file down to the Ventura board to get this settlement approved," he said. "Don't worry, everything is taken care of. The settlement papers are all signed, the applicant's attorney has approved and the judge is waiting for you."
Okay - sounded simple enough to me. Miller assured me, "It's no problem, a piece of cake. This is routine in workers' compensation and you don't need to know anything. Just get the judge to sign off on the settlement."
I wrapped a tie around my neck and headed on down to the Ventura board, which at the time was located on Ralston Street just off Victoria (I had a tough time finding it on this first occasion - it later became a very well known venue to me).
Indeed, at about 3 p.m. I found myself wandering the only downstairs hallway at the Ventura venue and knocking sheepishly on the presiding judge's door - Judge Greenblatt.
I don't remember the exact intercourse that started the discussion, but I probably said something stupid like, "John Miller sent me here to get this settlement approved and he said that you were waiting for me to sign the paperwork," which of course set Judge Greenblatt off.
"Sit down," he told me as I handed him the settlement papers. He looked them over through his bi-focals, painfully slow in my young, impatient, attention deficit distorted anxiousness - I just wanted to get back to the office.
As he perused the paper work, with various facial expressions indicating surprise, I looked around his office. Memorabilia of trains and baseball (specifically the Los Angeles Dodgers) hung on the walls and rested on shelves.
Judge Greenblatt scowled at me and very calmly said, "This is inadequate. I'm not going to approve this. Call your client and get more money."
What? Are you kidding me?
"Miller said you knew about this and that all I had to do was to get this signed," I replied.
Greenblatt raised his voice a bit more, scowled at me even more looking over his glasses that had slid down his nose from looking at the documents and VERY firmly suggested that I leave his office, "tell Miller this isn't the deal I was expecting," and to get more money.
I was completely paralyzed! I didn't know anything about workers' compensation, much less how to spell it properly. I didn't know the file and I sure as heck didn't know the client. I was about to be made a fool!
I called Miller on the downstairs exterior pay phone (we didn't have cell phones then) in a complete panic. The anxiety killed me. I wasn't doing my job. I was frightened about calling the client. I was even MORE frightened of calling the senior managing partner to tell him the bad news. And I was petrified of having to bring something back to Judge Greenblatt that he might not approve - he had a great way of making me feel very, very small.
The balance of that afternoon was 2 high anxiety hours of calling, getting calls, walking into and out of Judge Greenblatt's office until he was satisfied that the settlement was proper for the injured worker.
"Welcome to workers' compensation," Judge Greenblatt said as he handed me the signed Order Approving.
I saw Judge Greenblatt often after that and he always treated me with respect and courtesy, engaging me with stories about trains, or how the Dodgers were doing that season. And always making sure that all of the details in a case file were resolved. Greenblatt hated files coming back from storage so he was a stickler for making sure that all of the issues were closed, including unpaid bills and liens.
And I'm sure, in his own way of training the newly initiated, thrilled that someone new was entering the industry.
By the way, I don't recall who the applicant attorney was, but he obviously was quite amused ... at my expense of course!
I haven't seen Judge Greenblatt in several years and am sad of his passing. He will be greatly missed.
I'm also sure most everyone in this industry has a similar story of their introduction to workers' compensation. Use the comment feature here to tell me yours.