Accolades at Monterey

Accolades at Monterey

Well-deserved accolades were given this weekend in Monterey to some of California workers' comp's brightest stars.

The occasion? The awards ceremony sponsored by the Executive Committee of the bar's Workers' Compensation Section. Held each year at the time of the state bar convention, the awards ceremony is a way for the workers' comp community to honor exceptional achievement.

This year's winners are truly distinguished. Here are some comments on the four winners:

Applicant Attorney of the Year: Marc Marcus

Marcus, a longtime Sacramento partner at Marcus and Regalado, is respected for his combination of smarts, passion, and tenacity. Active in the California Applicants Attorneys association in educational, legislative and amicus efforts, Marcus is truly one of the leading applicant attorneys statewide. Marcus argued the winning position in the Duncan/XYZZZ case involving COLA calculations (a case now pending at the California Supreme Court).

In remarks to the attendees, Marcus acknowledged both the difficulties and the triumphs of the applicant bar in the wake of SB 899. Never one to paper over his fiery opinions, Marcus noted that he was no fan of insurance companies. If there was anyone in the audience in doubt, it became clear that Marcus was a symbol of an applicant bar committed to the cause of justice for individual workers.

Marcus noted that his son has now joined him in the comp practice. The torch goes on.

Defense Attorney of the Year: Michael Marks

Marks also started his career in Sacramento, but it took a different trajectory. Early in his comp career Marks was an associate attorney at Sacramento's Green and Azevedo, later forming a leading defense firm in San Francisco with James Finnegan. Marks has retired from the firm (now known as Finnegan, Marks, Theofel & Desmond) and now resides in Vermont.

But Marks has not retired from comp. Marks has been very active in appellate work and behind the scenes analysis for a number of insurance and employer groups. His hand is behind many of the key theories and arguments advanced by those groups in post-SB 899 litigation.

He may be spending much of his time driving a tractor or boiling maple sap to make syrup, but Marks has maintained a very distinguished role at the heart of debate about the future of California workers' comp laws.

I've known Marks since our careers launched around the same time in Sacramento (at the time I was representing applicants with Eugene Treaster, right across Sacramento's J Street). Over the years I've butted heads with him, and I can tell you what many will say: Marks is one of the most brilliant attorneys that have ever practiced in the system.

In remarks to the Monterey gathering, Marks acknowledged how much he learned from many of the other brilliant figures who trained or inspired him. Specifically, Marks acknowledged applicant attorneys Art Azevedo, Don Green, Lowell Airola and Maurice (Yank) Marcus. Noting his mentors on the defense side, Marks named Ted Niedermuller, Gordon Taylor, Mike Laughlin, and Jim Finnegan.

Judge of the Year: Jorja Frank

Judge Jorja Frank, presiding judge at the Los Angeles WCAB district office, was named judge of the year.

After a career as a comp defense attorney and a stint as a WCJ at the Marina Del Rey office, Jorja Frank took the position as PJ at the Los Angeles board in 2008.

A board sited in downtown LA, the Los Angeles board has had more than its share of troubles. Calendar delays, poor staff morale, and a volume of liens choking the system have been just a few of the challenges at this large, inner city board.

Judge Frank has been noted for her success in turning around the LA board. Morale has improved, innovative efforts to deal with lien claims have been undertaken, and a troubled office has been given the leadership it so badly needed.

I'd never seen Judge Frank before. Frank, a charming and soft spoken blonde whose surface appearance is more Newport Beach than downtown LA, came across in her remarks as the very antithesis of a leader who survives on fear and intimidation. Rather, Frank has apparently succeeded so far by taking a new approach as a motivator and advocate for a new vision of what is possible.

That's an impressive example for others to follow.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Pamela Foust

Claiming the lifetime achievement award for her career in California workers' comp was retired workers' comp judge Pamela Foust.

Foust has been a fixture in Southern California workers' comp circles for years, serving as a judge at the Santa Monica board for many years.

The author of a treatise on handling liens, "California Lien Claims in Workers' Compensation Cases", Judge Foust has been a much sought after educational panelist. After retiring from the WCAB, in 2010 Foust joined Zenith Insurance Company as a consultant.

Although I've never met Foust, I've long admired her work. I was a big fan after reading a piece she wrote some years ago entitled "Good Business Sense". Really it’s a fable on a system in which every stakeholder acts out of self-motivation for their own good business sense, resulting in some marked systemic excesses. As an opening quote to the fable noted, systemic abuses can degrade character. The fable begins "Once upon a time there was a machine operator who worked for a small fabrication shop..."

For those not familiar with the fable, here's a link to a portion on workcompcentral.com:

http://www.workcompcentral.com/signup/news/index.php?fa=column&article_id=w86d05r519898xy53y11vp

In her remarks, Foust mused on the pleasures of practicing in the comp community. In many areas of law the attorneys and judges encounter each other only very rarely. As Foust noted, by the time tort or transactional attorneys see each other again years may have gone by.

But in comp it's different. Foust noted that lawyers and judges encounter each other again and again, sometimes for decades. We see marriages bloom or fail and kids grow up.

In being honored herself, Foust honored the legal community from whence she came.

I've covered these events for the blog before. What never ceases to amaze though is the quality of the people who win these awards. I'm well cognizant that in some quarters workers' comp lawyers are regarded dismissively.

That our little corner of the justice system produces winners like these shows that there's a lot more to our practice than many might think.

My term on the workers' comp executive committee is up, but I'd like to thank outgoing chair Gary Nelson of Modesto and incoming chair Lisa Ivancich of Antioch for putting together such an excellent event.

Julius Young
www.boxerlaw.com

   This blog originally appeared on WorkersComp Zone. Reprinted with permission.