Friday, February 24, 2012

OK Legislator Gets A Taste of Comp - Will This Influence His Vote?

I know that those of us in the trenches of workers' compensation all have one common, secret, fantasy: that legislators spend some time in the system so they can really find out what it is all about, how it works and what the consequences are.

Fantasy comes true in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma state representative Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City, is seeking benefits for injuries to his neck and back that he says were suffered in a traffic accident nearly three years ago.

Christian contends he was "on duty" at the time of the accident because he was driving from his "duty station" (his district in south Oklahoma City) to a committee meeting at the Capitol. Christian says legislators are eligible for reimbursement for their mileage traveling to the Capitol.

He apparently met opposition on his claim for benefits from Oklahoma CompSource. And he accuses people in the legislature of trying to influence the judge on his case because of votes he cast in the past that were in opposition to House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee.

Christian wants the judge in his case, Judge Bob Lake Grove, to require House of Representatives workers to answer - under oath - whether they tried to intimidate workers' compensation judges and influence the outcome on his case.

Christian is represented by attorney Richard Bell.

Bell said he wanted to question Ashley Kemp, Amy Alden and John Estus under oath. Kemp is the general counsel for the House of Representatives, Alden is the House's former general counsel and Estus is press secretary to Steele.

Bell also is asking that Toye Venable, a claims adjuster for CompSource Oklahoma, be required to give a deposition. "I think it's relevant if there has been a concerted effort to involve the press to intimidate the courts," Bell told the Oklahoma City Oklahoman, reported Wednesday.

Attorneys representing Estus, Kemp and Venable objected to Bell's efforts to subpoena them, calling the subpoenas "burdensome, oppressive, vague, overbroad" and "not relevant to the subject matter in the pending action."

Grove told Bell he was not aware of any effort to intimidate him, and ordered Bell and attorneys for the House to go back to mediation and attempt to resolve the dispute over Christian's workers' compensation case.

Grove said he would not rule on a request by attorneys representing the House of Representatives to void subpoenas issued by Bell unless mediation efforts fail.

The Oklahoma legislature is currently considering legislation that would make it only the second state to make workers' compensation optional, like neighboring Texas, albeit with a mandatory ERISA plan.

How do you think Christian will vote should this legislation get passed into the full House for a vote?

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