By Kevin Berkowitz
Administrative Law Judge
Industrial Commission of Arizona
Over a three-day period, new workers’ compensation judges, including myself, gained invaluable insight from the 2023 new judges’ virtual boot camp. Although the 2023 bootcamp was virtual, which decreased the opportunity to meet each other on a more personal basis, the boot camp was highly impactful and a huge success. Esteemed judges and professors dove into topics ranging from Orientation, Origins, and Key Principles of Workers’ Compensation; From Advocate to Adjudicator; Ethics for Judges; How to Effectively Use Technology in Hearings and Mediations; Evidentiary Issues; Procedural Issues; Judicial Writing; Dealing with Difficult Litigants and Understanding Cultural Differences; Writing Effective Decisions; and Determining Causation Issues & Weighing Conflicting Medical Opinions.
My biggest takeaway was how warm, open, and generous the workers’ compensation community is. Not just locally (Arizona), but nationally. While states may vary how workers’ compensation rules have been adopted and how procedural and discovery matters are conducted, the underlying workers’ compensation issues remain the same. After graduating from the three-day boot camp, I leave knowing that I can call upon my local community of judges and my national community of judges for questions, conversations, and thoughts about the work that we do.
As I am just about a half a year in as a new judge and getting further into the world of holding hearings, one question I keep asking is: when is it ok to ask witnesses questions during hearings? Where is the non-visual line in the non-existent sand, and how do I find the appropriate balance between being an impartial adjudicator and not being an advocate? What I learned mirrored exactly what I have learned from my local community. It is not my job to advocate for either side. It is not my job to present information on behalf of a party. Clarifying, however, is ok, as long as there is no concern that clarifying strengthens or weakens either sides position. It was helpful to hear that if a question that I presume should be asked, is not asked, there is probably a reason why, and it is not my job to dive into issues that are not addressed. It is my job, however, to adjudicate the facts of the case that are before me – it is not my job to put the facts before myself.
A few of my other key takeaways included learning the history behind workers’ compensation, and learning how judges in other states feel regarding professionalism from attorneys and claimants during hearings. I left the new judges’ virtual boot camp with great admiration for my colleagues, both locally and nationally, in the work and goals that we are all achieving. I recommend that every new judge attend the new judges’ virtual boot camp so that they can gain insight from highly respectable judges and professors, as I just have.