DWC to Issue Workers' Compensation Judicial Code of Conduct

SAN FRANCISCO--A proposed code of judicial conduct to address the ethical standards applicable to referees in the state workers' compensation system has been presented to the California Division of Workers' Compensation and will be the subject of public hearings, DWC Administrative Director Casey L. Young has announced.

The proposed set of rules were developed by the Josephson Institute of Ethics at the request of Young, who said he plans to schedule the hearings on these proposals, as well as on a set of regulations that will provide an explicit enforcement mechanism, within the next 30 days.

"We are pleased to accept these recommendations as the basis to establish needed rules and guidelines in this area," said Young. They will supplement the California Code of Judicial Conduct, which already applies to all judges in the state, including workers' compensation referees, he noted.

Young said that he had retained the Josephson Institute, a widely respected authority on ethics located in Marina del Rey, after a lengthy and thorough investigation of allegations of misconduct and other ethical violations by certain judges and referees last year.

"One of the most important results of that investigation," Young said, "was our conclusion that more precise and detailed guidelines as to what constitutes unethical or unacceptable conduct within the workers' compensation judicial system were needed. Once these regulations are adopted, there should be no question as to what is acceptable and what is not," he said.

In developing the proposed standards, the Josephson Institute conducted over 40 interviews of persons working in the workers' compensation system, conducted an extensive written survey, and facilitated three full-day discussions with more than one hundred workers' compensation referees who work in the Division of Workers' Compensation. This exercise identified significant areas of concern which are addressed by the rules and guidelines recommended by the Institute.

"This is an important step to restore confidence not only in our judicial officers, but also in the system itself," said Young. "There has been a strong perception of a lack of ethical behavior on the part of virtually all the participants in the system. Our referees are in a position to enforce ethical, appropriate behavior on the part of those that appear before them and are encouraged to do so by the proposed standards."

The rules cover such subjects as the duty to report misconduct, integrity of court records and ex parte communications, socializing with workers' compensation practitioners, financial interest in educational programs, use of names in promotional materials, diligence, honesty and decorum.

The adoption of regulations enforcing the requirement judges and referees subscribe to the California Code of Judicial Conduct and not, directly or indirectly, engage in conduct contrary to that code, was called for in Assembly Bill 1252, authored by Assemblyman Richard Mountjoy in 1993.

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