Worker’s Compensation Administrative Law Judges:
Only the Best Qualify to Serve
You can relax. Most California employers never meet a workers’ compensation administrative law judge, at least not in court anyway. But knowing the strict qualifications and high ethical standards required of those judges can help you better appreciate the workers’ compensation system.
Previously known as “workers' compensation referees,” these officials received the new title of “workers’ compensation administrative law judges” from California’s Legislature in 1998, effective as of 1999. Although we know their full title, we’ll refer to them here as judges, with that understanding.
To qualify for and carry out this role in California’s workers’ compensation system, these judges must meet the following requirements:
- Eligibility List. The Administrative Director appoints these judges from an eligibility list of attorneys. These attorneys not only must satisfy all qualifications that the State Personnel Board specifies for the position but also must receive passing scores on a competitive civil service examination. In addition, for appointments occurring after January 1, 2003, the attorneys must have experience in workers' compensation law.
- Ethical Standards. Judges must comply with all the ethical standards of three separate legal authorities, namely, the Code of Judicial Ethics, the Political Reform Act of 1974, and the Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) Ethics Regulations.
- Communication Limits. To help ensure due fairness and objectivity in judicial proceedings, the judge's communication involving pending cases is limited. The judge should not have ex parte (one-sided) communication with an employee, an employer, or those representing either one.
- Gift Limits. Without first obtaining the Administrative Director’s approval, judges cannot accept any gift, payment, honorarium, meal, travel, or anything exceeding $5.00 in value, significantly paid for by attorneys who practice before the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB), or others whose interest have come or may come before the WCAB.
- Disclosure Requirements. The Code of Ethics requires a judge to disclose, on the record, information that a judge believes the parties or their lawyers might consider relevant to the question of disqualification. An example would be disclosing prior clients.
- Reporting Requirements. Judges have an obligation to report misconduct and fraud.