By: Hon. Suzette Carlisle, Ph.D.
Administrative Law Judge
Missouri Division of Workers’ Compensation
We continue our series on past presidents of the NAWCJ. This month we sit down with The Honorable Michael Alvey and Jennifer Hopens and find out how they spend their time since they left the presidency.
- Please state your full name and title. Michael W. Alvey, Chairman, Kentucky Workers’ Compensation Board.
- What bench do you serve on and what are your responsibilities? I serve as the Chairman of the Kentucky Workers’ Compensation Board, which is the first level of appeal of workers’ compensation decisions rendered by our administrative law judges.
- Please state a brief history of your career, i.e., positions and dates. I was engaged in the private practice of law from April 19, 1988, until January 4, 2010. My primary area of practice was workers’ compensation, primarily for the defense, but I handled some claims for injured workers if there was no conflict. I also defended federal black lung claims and dealt with some corporate and probate matters. On January 5, 2010, I began serving as Chairman of the Board, and I have held that job since.
- How did you become acquainted with NAWCJ? Dwight Lovan, our prior Commissioner, sent me and four of our ALJ’s to the Judicial College in August 2010. Commissioner Lovan had learned of the organization through one of his various national contacts.
- In addition to being a past president, what other leadership roles have you held in the organization, and when? I began serving on the NAWCJ Board of Directors in January 2011. I served as President-elect from January 2011 to January 2013. I served as President from January 2015 until August 2016. I continued to serve on the Board of Directors until May 2018 when I began serving as Treasurer.
- What is your current relationship with the organization? I serve as the Treasurer.
- List an achievement, event, or person you believe has made a significant contribution to the organization. There are many folks who are deserving of recognition. John Lazzara and David Langham had the foresight to organize and shepherd the NAWCJ. Kathy Shelton from RMI is the engineer who drives the train and ensures the viability and success of the program. I must acknowledge the support from WCI who has enabled us to provide excellent programming at little cost. I think we as an organization have done well in increasing our funding through good stewardship which began under Bob Cohen’s watchful eye. I also believe the organization has benefitted by providing continued excellent programming, and the development of other initiatives such as the new judges “boot camp”, the lunch and learn programs, and the initiation of the NAWCJ Hall of Fame.
- Do you believe the organization remains relevant today? Absolutely.
- If so, in what way? We are the only organization that provides programming specifically for workers’ compensation adjudicators. We have also created a national network of adjudicators that provides continued support for our members.
- How can members get more involved with the organization? By contacting any officer or NAWCJ board member. Then being prepared to roll up their sleeves and dig in.
- Can the Board do more to reach members and expand membership? If so, what do you suggest? We have done a pretty good job of maintaining contact with administrators nationwide through involvement of our member in programs such as SAWCA and the IAIABC. We need to continue to be involved with those programs and nurture our relationships.
- Is there anything you would like to add about the organization, yourself, etc.? I cannot say enough good things about the NAWCJ. Again, being involved enhances camaraderie and reinforcement for our chosen field.
The Honorable Michael W. Alvey, Chairman, Kentucky Workers’ Compensation Board
- Please state your full name and title. Jennifer Hopens, Deputy Commissioner for the Appeals Panel, Texas Department of Insurance Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC)
- What bench do you serve on and what are your responsibilities? I oversee the Appeals Panel program area for DWC in Austin. In that capacity, I supervise six appeals judges. We review appeals of decisions of administrative law judges (ALJs) assigned to the DWC Hearings program area.
- Please state a brief history of your career, i.e., positions and dates. From 2002 through 2007, I was a hearing officer for the Texas Workforce Commission, conducting hearings primarily in disputes over unemployment benefits. In 2007, I joined DWC as a hearing officer (now ALJ). In that position, I traveled around the state hearing workers’ compensation disputes, which was a wonderful and enriching experience. In 2016, I became a regional director for Hearings, and I supervised benefit review officers and hearing officers for the northern and western regions of the state. In 2017, I joined the Appeals Panel, where I remain today.
- How did you become acquainted with NAWCJ? I attended the very first Judiciary College in 2009, and I’ve been hooked ever since!
- In addition to being a past president, what other leadership roles have you held in the organization, and when? I served on the NAWCJ Board of Directors starting in 2010. I eventually became an officer, serving two-year terms as Secretary and President-Elect. From 2016 to 2018, I was President of the organization, one of the greatest honors of my life. I have been on the Board of Directors since my term as Immediate Past-President of NAWCJ ended in 2019.
- What is your current relationship with the organization? I currently serve on the Board of Directors and different committees (e.g., conference and membership & recruitment). I’m always happy to help in any way I can!
- List an achievement, event, or person you believe has made a significant contribution to the organization. There are really too many great people to name! If you put me on the spot in terms of a person who has done a lot for NAWCJ, I’ll be happy to sing the praises of John Lazzara, retired Florida judge and NAWCJ’s George Washington (our first president), who did so much in the early years to build the organization into a nationally recognized leader in judicial education (and he still helps us out!). The New Judges’ Boot Camp, which took place in 2018, 2021, and 2023, and the periodic virtual Lunch & Learn programs have also been great developments in the life of the organization and have allowed us to branch out and reach even more adjudicators in this unique and endlessly fascinating area of the law.
- Do you believe the organization remains relevant today? If so, in what way? Absolutely! NAWCJ’s mission is to provide opportunities for judicial education for members of the workers’ compensation judiciary at the trial or appellate level to enhance justice. I look forward to the Judiciary College every year, with its mix of compelling topics and presenters, along with exposure to different ideas and perspectives. No matter your experience level on the bench, there is always more to learn as a judge, whether it be ways to sharpen your writing and decision-making skills or learning strategies for managing stress. Education goes hand in hand with personal and professional growth and is critical to the continued vitality of the judiciary. Our laws may be substantively different in our various jurisdictions, but, at the end of the day, we are united in a firm and unwavering commitment to do the best job possible for the public we serve.
- How can members get more involved with the organization? Volunteering for committee service is a great way to begin your involvement with the organization. There are a number of them, including conference, curriculum, membership & recruitment, newsletter, and website. You can also submit an article for publication in the Lex & Verum, NAWCJ’s quarterly newsletter. Feel free to reach out to me or any other NAWCJ board members or officers for more information.
- Can the Board do more to reach members and expand membership? If so, what do you suggest? Yes. On that note, the aim of the relatively new NAWCJ membership & recruitment committee is continued outreach to jurisdictions around the country to grow our membership ranks and to encourage more widespread adjudicator participation and attendance at NAWCJ events. Under the leadership of our committee chair, Judge Sharon Reeves of Georgia, I am confident we will see excellent results as time goes by.
- Is there anything you would like to add about the organization, yourself, etc.? It’s hard for me to believe that it has been 14 years since I ventured to Orlando for my very first Judiciary College. I’m just so grateful for my time with NAWCJ and the many wonderful souls I’ve met and had the pleasure of working with over the years through the organization. Our work is far from done. Onward and upward!
The Honorable Jennifer Hopens Commissioner for the Appeals Panel
Texas Department of Insurance Division of Workers’ Compensation
NAWCJ Officers and Board members present at the 2023 Judicial College in Orlando, Florida immediately following the annual business meeting.
Front row, left to right – Judges Jennifer Hopens (Texas), Sharon Reeves (Georgia), Sheral Kellar (Louisiana), Pamela Johnson (Tennessee), Shannon Bruno Bishop (Louisiana), and Suzette Carlisle Flowers (Missouri).
Back row, left to right – Judges Wesley Marshall (Virginia), Michael Alvey (Kentucky), Steven Minicucci (Rhode Island), Kenneth Switzer (Tennessee), and Josh Baker (Tennessee)