"Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop In,"

A friend sent me a link by email the other day. The email was succinct, "I am sending this link because the message is so important." I rarely follow links in emails. I am not on Facebook (Facebook is so "last year"), I struggle with Twitter and marvel at each social media outlet (or inlet) across which I unwittingly tumble. I rarely even open email jokes.

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Proud of the 2014 WCI Presenters

It is hard to believe that it has been a year. It seems like yesterday I saw so many of you at the WCI in Orlando. It is a great opportunity to see and speak with so many members of the section, other lawyers from around the state, doctors, adjusters, risk managers, claims professionals and more.

In reading through the program, I am struck by the vast diversity of programming each year at the WCI. If you cannot find something at this conglomeration that is of interest to you, something is very wrong. There are programs on medicine, safety, risk management, chiropractic, national trends, national legal issues, medical excellence, mediation, regulations, and so much more.

It is gratifying to me that so many of you, the members of The Florida Bar contribute so much time and effort to providing quality programming at this annual event. I wish I could get around to each of your programs and hear the results of that hard work. I am flabbergasted at the amount of effort that you devote to researching, preparing, and presenting on these varied topics.

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Changes Again

It is that time of year. Change seems to come to so much in the summer months. The kids are finishing a school year with many sighs of relief, and focus on the next step. This spring brought that home as I see several focused on their next step, off to college. I witnessed another young man conclude law school and focus on transitioning to professional life. For whatever reason, summer brings the end of the OJCC fiscal year, and coincidentally the Bar’s also. It is a time of change.

As a result, each summer we see a change in leadership in the Workers’ Compensation Section of The Florida Bar. We welcome a new chair, William Rogner, and bid farewell to Christopher Smith; more on Mr. Rogner in weeks to come. My focus this week is on memorializing Mr. Smith’s service to the Section this last couple of years. Yes, being Section Chair is not a one year commitment. The Section selects leaders well in advance, so that there is a clear progression.

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Thank you state mediators!

There is a developing trend in workers' compensation. Mediation is becoming the norm rather than the exception. Florida went this way a long time ago, with mediations occurring in the early 1990s and the mandatory mediation model becoming a reality in 1994.

The International Association of Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC) has noticed the trend toward mediation. Georgia has been offering mediation for a number of years. Virginia has recently implemented an expansion of their mediation process, which now includes both issue mediation and case resolution. Washington State has a very successful mediation program.

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Welcome Judge Forte!

 It is a new era this week in Ft. Lauderdale. Judge Forte takes the bench, replacing Judge Pecko. We wish Judge Pecko the best in future and welcome Judge Forte. I had the opportunity this week to spend time with Judges Almeyda (MIA), Dietz (MEL) and Forte (FTL) at the New Judge’s College produced by the National Association of Workers’ Compensation Judiciary (NAWCJ) in conjunction with the Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Educational Conference in Nashville.

It was a great program, full of information and advice for new judges. It is amazing that they spend years teaching us to be lawyers, but in the past there was little education or instruction on how to be a judge. We have changed that in recent years. I am confident that the NAWCJ New Judge's College was a valuable opportunity for all of our new judges.

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Welcome Robert Dietz!

On June 2, 2014, Governor Rick Scott appointed two new Judges of Compensation Claims. They are Robert Dietz and Iliana Forte. We welcome them to the Office and look forward to the next four years of their service. This week, I will introduce the Section to Judge Dietz and next week this blog will feature Judge Forte. Not sure why, but I tend to do things in alphabetical order.

Judge Dietz will take the bench on July 8, 2014 and be assigned to the Sebastian/Melbourne District. He replaces Judge Donna Remsnyder upon her retirement. Judge Remsnyder will be greatly missed and Judge Dietz has big shoes to fill in Sebastian/Melbourne. 

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Friends of 440 (no, the other one)

The Friends of 440 Scholarship Fund was incorporated in 1992. Its goal “is to make the dream of college a reality for eligible students who are dependents and descendants of an individual who has been injured or killed in the course and scope of their employment and who received benefits under the Florida Workers' Compensation Law.” Most people associated with workers’ compensation in Florida have run across this group at the annual worker’s compensation conference in Orlando, either as they raise money in the concourse or as they announce scholarship winners in the main hall. When you mention Friends of 440, or click that link on the section website, scholarship is the focus.

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Another Great Forum, Good Job Mr. Garcia!

Years ago, a guy sent me a flyer in the mail and invited me to join the “who’s who” of something or other. I do not recall the details. I thought of that label this morning when I got around to opening a package recently sent to me by Leopoldo (Leo) Garcia. It contained a book, which is a compilation of the knowledge accumulated for the 2014 Workers’ Compensation Forum. I have written about the forum before, but every time I think about it I become enthused.

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The time to prepare is now

It has been a long week here in Pensacola. I want to pause to thank so many who have contacted me to inquire about our safety and well- being in the wake of our recent storms. It is touching that so many have been concerned.

We did not have a hurricane, but the weather professionals say we may have received more rain this week than we did during hurricane Ivan. We had significant rainfall here Tuesday night. Some estimates run as high as 20 inches of rain in a twenty-four hour period.

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The Judicial/Mediator Survey is out!

This morning, I use this platform to remind the members of the section that the judicial/Mediator survey is active. Every member of the section should have received an email with a link to the survey. For section members, we used the email address registered with The Florida Bar for distribution. This is because, that is the email address that appears on the list of Section members provided by the Bar.

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This week's blog post comes to us from guest blogger Timothy Dunbrack of the Kelley Kronenberg firm. He mentioned this presentation to me some months back at a bar meeting, and it sounded fantastic. I am proud to share it with everyone and am proud of Mr. Dunbrack for having gathered the information.

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Congratulations Nicole Hessen!

On September 19, 1996 a horrible tragedy occurred in the workers' compensation community that most will never forget. An injured worker armed with a shotgun and a handgun burst into a workers' compensation defense firm in West Palm Beach, Florida. Attorney Kennie Edwards was shot and killed at age 38 leaving behind his pregnant wife and five year old son. The injured worker then shot and killed himself. Following this horrific event the workers' compensation community established the Kennie Edwards Award which is presented annually to the Workers' Compensation attorney who best exemplifies those professional qualities admired in Kennie: honesty, integrity, cordiality, good humor, high ethical standards and advocacy tempered by a sense of humility.

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A great educational program in Tallahassee

This week I am recognizing the efforts of Judge John Lazzara and others for a great educational seminar in Tallahassee. It is not an individual achievement. Many of the best ones are not individual, but require contributions from many to result in team victory.

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Great Upcoming CLE Opportunities

The Office of Judges of Compensation Claims, the Workers’ Compensation Section of The Florida Bar, The West Palm Beach Bar, and the Workers’ Compensation Institute are each presenting exceptional continuing education programs in coming months. Next Friday there is the OJCC/WCI program in Tallahassee, that is offered annually at the First District Court, free of charge. The West Palm Beach bar is sponsoring their day-long program the same day. In April, the Section presents its Forum program, and the WCI presents its annual Spring Forum. Both of the April programs are in Orlando. Does anyone but me ever wonder why more programs like this are not offered in the geographic and cultural center of Florida (Pensacola)?

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Thanks and Recognition of a Great Mentor Amongst Us

I have been a fan or mentoring for a great many years. Today I mention Al Frierson again because he is a great mentor and that is becoming rare in our profession. I do not mean to imply that there are not attorneys out there who take the time to lend some support to a fellow practitioner. Many mentor a bit. What I have learned about Al is that he mentors on a professional level, and more importantly on a personal level. 

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Congratulations Michael O'Rourke

Michael O’Rourke is a claimant’s attorney in Jacksonville. He has been representing claimants there since I can remember. He was admitted to The Florida Bar in 1991. I can recall practicing against Mr. O’Rourke on various occasions, and in my experience he was zealous, but consistently among the most professional attorneys in what was a fairly close-knit Jacksonville workers’ compensation bar.

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Congratulations Martin Leibowitz!

Last summer, Section Chair Dawn Traverso passed the gavel to Christopher Smith. As she did so, she recognized several members of the Section Executive Council for their contributions during her term. A previous post memorialized the recognition of Allison Hunnicutt for her efforts on the Forum. This post recognizes Martin L. Leibowitz for his efforts on this very website platform you are reading.

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Comp Seminars Coming February 28, 2014

February 28, 2014 will feature educational seminars at the northern and southern ends of the state. The Office of the Judges of Compensation Claims (OJCC) will team-up with the Workers’ Compensation Institute (WCI) to sponsor another free educational seminar in Tallahassee. Coincidentally, the Palm Beach County Bar Association will present “Not Just Comp” on the same date, at the Bar offices in West Palm Beach.

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Congratulations Stephen Barbas

This week I was provided with a clipping regarding Stephen Barbas. It is just the sort of thing that I look for when I print those requests in our periodic email blasts, "let me know if you have received an award." Mr. Barbas did not send me the clipping, but his professional associates were proud of him and contacted me.

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Reappointments and Congratulations

Friday was a big day for the Office of Judges of Compensation Claims. Governor Rick Scott announced the appointment of Eduardo Almeyda (Miami) to fill the vacancy left by the retirement of long-serving Judge Alan Kuker. Judge Kuker departed in September for both a well earned retirement and to begin life as a private mediator. Some had spread conjecture that Judge Kuker would not be replaced, but that conjecture was proven incorrect. The pace at which rumors can spread and become out of proportion is scary sometimes. 

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Congratulations Robert Cohen

I missed posting last Friday. My apologies. It has been a busy season, with travel, the annual report, the child support transition and more. My post would have been, and instead today is, congratulations to DOAH Director Bob Cohen. Last Friday the Division celebrated his tenth year leading the Division. It is an achievement worth noting. 

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Congratulations Robert Dietz

Last August, Robert Dietz of Orlando was recognized by the Civitan International organization. Robert has been involved with that group for almost 30 years, and has been active on a variety of levels locally and beyond. In recognition of this kind of service, Civitan awarded two International Honor Key awards at their 93rd International Convention last August, and one of those two International awards was presented to Robert Dietz.

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Recognition Reiterated. Well Done Havers, Hawkes and Wheeler!

There is a group in Tallahassee called Florida Tax Watch. Among their missions, they have a process for recognizing people in state government for their ideas on saving money. Primarily, they are concerned with tax money, and the Office of Judges of Compensation Claims does not use any tax money. The OJCC is funded 100% by assessments that are imposed on insurance policies issued for workers' compensation. The same is true for the Division of Workers' Compensation. This self-executing system that we have is also designed to be self-financing.

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