Thursday, October 13, 2011

FL Judges Shown Politics Controls Judiciary

In most states the workers' compensation adjudication system begins with an administrative process and the judges are administrative law judges (ALJ) that have limited judicial powers and are bound by judicial canons of ethics and conduct.

In most states ALJs are hired by the state agency and are not the subject of executive appointment.

Florida is unique in that its ALJs are appointed by the Governor. This makes the workers' compensation adjudication process in Florida subject to politicization.

Apparently that is what is going on in Florida.

Veteran Judge of Compensation Claims (JCC) Paul T. Terlizzese is losing his job because the Statewide Nominating Commission for Judges of Compensation Claims in August failed to reach a majority vote on Terlizzese.

Terlizzese, of Melbourne, was appointed by former Gov. Jeb Bush as one of the state's 32 judges of compensation claims (JCCs) on Nov. 1, 1999. His term expires on Oct. 22.

From what was reported in WorkCompCentral this morning on the matter, Terlizzese had his enemies but he had never been counseled for unethical behavior or bias.

But there was a group of lawyers that had filed complaints against Terlizzese claiming that he demonstrated bias against injured workers.

Those six complaints were investigated by David Langham, deputy chief judge of the Office of Judges of Compensation Claims who found no evidence of that Terlizzese had violated the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct.

A few days before the nominating commission met last April, the Workers' Compensation Section of the Florida Bar released the results of its 2011 survey of judges and gave Terlizzese low marks.

On a scale of one to five, he got a rating of 2.5 for courteousness to counsel, witnesses and parties; a score of 2.3 for patience and willingness to listen, and a score of 2.6 for impartiality. The three ratings were the lowest given to the state's 32 JCCs. We don't know who participated in the survey, how many participated, and whether there was a "bias" in the survey (i.e. whether more participated in the survey regarding Terlizzese than other judges).

Florida's JCC decisions are not reviewed, like many states, by an administrative review system, but go straight into the appellate courts, with the First District Court of Appeal have exclusive jurisdiction over workers' compensation appeals.

Terlizzese's record on appeal is good: Langham said Terlizzese has been affirmed at a rate of between 83.5% and 87.3% in appeals of his orders.

Workers' compensation is a product of the political process, which is the reason in part why we never have a "complete" solution to system issues.

But placing ALJs in the political cross hairs threatens the independence of the judiciary.

I don't know Terlizzese, and I don't know his court room demeanor, but the actions of the nominating committee and the Governor's office don't pass my "smell" test. From our story there were only six complaints, one by a politically powerful person (former Rockledge, Fla., Police Chief John Shockey).

In addition, the nominating commission, which is supposed to be composed of 15 members, only had 8 present to vote on Terlizzese because of vacancies on the commission and the fact that a Jewish holiday had begun on the date of the vote.

The complaints against Terlizzese were about bias. It appears to me that the actions against Terlizzese are ironically biased.


  1. Florida is no longer unique in gubernatorial appointments. The 2011 Illinois "reforms" provide that the governor will appoint arbitrators (ALJs) subject to confirmation by the Senate. Governor Quinn is still working on the appointments to the positions that have been temporarily occupied since July 1.

  2. Thanks for the correction Jim. "Reforms" always trip me up!