RTGR Law Wins Appeal: A Status Conference is NOT a Trial
- October 31st, 2019
- Tom Richard
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RTGR Law LLP won an appeal at the WCAB overturning a discovery order issued by a WC judge in Oakland which violated our client’s due process rights. The WC judge issued the order on a contested set of facts at a status conference, over our objection, without providing an opportunity to present evidence or call witnesses. We filed for Removal citing the en banc decision Hamilton v. Lockheed Martin (2001) 66 CCC 473, arguing due process rights were violated and the judge’s decision amounted to a trial, without notice, while at a status conference.
In a decision written by the Chairperson of the WCAB, the panel of three commissioners unanimously struck down the trial judge’s decision, citing the judge’s failure to properly develop the record or provide an opportunity to be heard. The result is our client will be afforded a fair hearing at the WCAB in front of a different WC judge.
The underlying claim involved a police officer asserting injury to her psyche. The claim was denied and contained multiple factual disputes. A Status Conference was set regarding multiple issues related to the QME process. These included apparent ex parte communications by the applicant with the QME. Defendant was objecting to applicant’s efforts to send multiple non-medical documents to the QME, including pleadings and other correspondence from a third-party’s civil lawsuit. The pleadings were particularly troublesome given the unsubstantiated factual allegations, and the likely confusion they would cause the psyche QME.
We appeared for the hearing assuming the issues would be narrowed and framed for trial and either continued to an expedited hearing/trial or a mandatory settlement conference. Instead, the judge held what amounted to a trial. The judge issued an order, over our objection, which vaguely identified the materials to be sent to the QME. The judge failed to admit these documents into evidence (or even review them), and refused to set the matter for trial.
The appeal hinged on the judge’s utter failure to develop the record or provide defendant an opportunity to be heard. This case reminds us that judges are not rulers, they have only limited statutorily-defined authority to issue discovery orders at settlement conferences. This limited authority does not provide carte blanche to simply ignore a party’s right to trial. Rather, all WCAB orders must be supported by an adequate and completely-developed record after a meaningful opportunity to be heard. In other words, after each party has been afforded due process under the law.