Bulletin 95-4

April 13, 1995

DWC Sets Hearings on New "Code of Conduct" Regulations

The Division of Workers' Compensation will hold public hearings on Wednesday, May 31, and Friday, June 2, on regulations which will establish a code of judicial conduct for referees in the state workers' compensation system and an enforcement mechanism for the new code.

The proposed code of judicial conduct was developed by the Josephson Institute of Ethics at the request of DWC Administrative Director Casey L. Young following a lengthy and thorough investigation last year of allegations of misconduct and other ethical violations. The new rules will supplement the California Code of Judicial Conduct, which already applies to all judges in the state, including workers' compensation referees.

In developing the proposed standards, the Josephson Institute, a widely respected authority on ethics located in Marina del Rey, conducted an extensive written survey with 683 responses, conducted over 40 interviews of persons working in the workers' compensation system, 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.

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.

A key element in the proposed enforcement mechanism will be the new Workers' Compensation Ethics Advisory Committee, consisting of eight members appointed by the administrative director. It will meet monthly, make recommendations regarding the complaints it has received, and monitor the outcome of investigations.

The committee's role will mirror to the extent possible that of the state Commission on Judicial Performance, whose procedures regulate the activity of state judges. Members will represent organized labor, insurers, self-insured employers, a defense attorney, an applicant's attorney, a presiding referee, a referee from northern California and a referee from southern California.

After receiving a complaint, the committee will forward those that it deems have merit to either the presiding referee or the administrative director, depending on the nature of the complaint, for appropriate investigation. The committee may also make recommendations to the administrative director, the legislature and the public concerning the integrity of the workers' compensation adjudicatory process.

The adoption of regulations enforcing the requirement that 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.

The May 31 hearing will take place in Los Angeles at 107 S. Broadway, Room 1138. The June 2 hearing will be in San Francisco at 455 Golden Gate Ave., Room 1194. Both get underway at 10 a.m. and continue until 5 p.m. or the conclusion of business.

Those on the Administrative Director's mailing list should receive notice of the regulatory hearings, including an informative digest and the complete text of the proposed regulations shortly. Others may obtain a copy by writing to the Division of Workers' Compensation, P.O. Box 420603, San Francisco, CA 94142.