On Thursday, August 4, 2011, the new Administrative Director for the Division of Workers’ Compensation, Rosa Moran, sat for her first interview since the announcement of her appointment. She was questioned by long-time LexisNexis editorial board member Kenneth Peterson (retired Associate Chief Judge and former Presiding Judge of the Oakland District Office). The interview began at Moran’s office on the 6th floor of the Oakland State Building, where she has served as a trial judge for six years, and ended at her new Administrative Director office on the 17th floor, aptly reflecting the competing demands upon her time as she finishes a few final case decisions submitted from past trials. The interview follows below:
Q: The position of DWC AD has become widely viewed as among the more demanding in all of state government. Why did you decide to apply?
A: Good question, and one that a lot of people have asked me. There have been some funny and more serious answers suggested. I will focus on the serious ones, since they tend not to question my sanity. As a judge, I have seen all sides of many current workers’ compensation issues, along with the wide and divergent interests reflected by parties that have appeared in my cases. Many of them have strong agendas, and as a judge you hear it all. I have functioned as a neutral party without any agenda or set position, and my goal has been to try to improve the system. I was no longer in the industry. I thought that someone with that kind of background could offer a new perspective and have some advantages as AD, coming in without a wish list or fixed position on issues, and seeking to take a look at how the system could be improved. That’s why I decided to apply.
Q: Have you had to make any decisions yet as AD, or are you still functioning primarily as a judge?
A: I am actually doing both now. I have six cases left to decide, and am doing a lot of those at night. In addition, I am actively taking emails and phone calls as AD. There is a lot of activity involving workers’ compensation right now, and a lot of people who want to be heard. When I come into the AD position formally on August 22, I will already be scheduled out and will be able to hit the ground running.
Q: Can you list a few of your immediate priorities as AD?
A: My first goal is to try to assemble a team of people from all parts of the workers’ compensation community who can provide advice about how to improve the system. I have already been working on the EAMS program, which is a challenging area at this point. I’ve already formed a very small committee to try to centralize information on EAMS. I want to have a point person, not at the technical level, but rather at the user level, to collect issues and convey user concerns to our technical group. I could probably do an entire interview on EAMS if you would like, although it might be better to wait a little while until some of my plans are more firmly in place.
Q: You are in somewhat of a unique position concerning EAMS, because you have been an active user of the system while performing your judicial duties. How do you think that has affected your perspective?
A. As a judge I know first hand the positive and negatives about EAMS due to daily use of the system. I’m now working with people more involved with the technical issues involving EAMS primarily in the reporting environment. EAMS has the capability to provide workload and work flow reports that are very useful for task assignments. This is an area that I am really looking at closely from a management perspective.
Q: There has already been considerable speculation about when and how you might revise the permanent disability rating schedule. In a recent speech, Acting DIR Director Christine Baker apparently indicated costs resulting from a revised schedule would need to be offset by system savings elsewhere. Any comments?
A: I think Christine is correct. This is not the economy we had previously. We have a very weak economy, and there will have to be some balancing between the costs and the benefits. Injured workers deserve fair, reasonable, adequate and necessary benefits. But we also have an economy that is in its infancy of coming around. One of the things I plan to focus on is finding areas where there can be some streamlining and cost savings. I think I have some good people on it, and it is certainly a high priority and goal for me. I think there is money to be saved, and one example is the lien situation in Southern California. There is an incredibly long and inefficient adjudicatory process with many continuances. There are some draft lien regulations that will be released shortly for public comment. They will hopefully help resolve some of the delay issues that have been a huge cost driver, and at the same time provide a more expeditious means for treatment providers to be paid when their claims are valid. Right now it is an incredibly arduous process, and at many of our southern offices there are multiple conferences before a trial setting occurs. The cost of this litigation is a really high employer concern, and the medical providers are concerned as well because of the lengthy process. If we can streamline the process, and I think we can, that would create a very large cost savings. There are many issues to be addressed, but this one is pretty glaring and needs to be dealt with right away. The proposed new regulations will mirror the MSC track, so there can be a closure of discovery at a lien conference followed by a trial setting. They will also provide a mechanism to dispose of liens that are no longer being actively pursued. Some people call them “ghost” liens, and they are a problem because carriers and employers hire representation to try to bring them to a conclusion, and discover they have no one to talk to.
Q: The huge numbers of lien claims appear to be more of an issue in the southern part of the state. Past ADs have struggled to solve problems that appear to affect one part of the state more than others, while still trying to have a uniform system. Do you have any thoughts about how to approach those kinds of issues?
A: I need to travel to the larger offices in Southern California as soon as possible to see first hand some of the issues they face. I haven’t been to those offices since my initial judge training, but I very clearly remember the lien situation as part of my training. Newly appointed judges actually sat on the bench for a period of time to hear lien issues. I had already been a judge in Oakland for a few months before attending this training, and it was immediately apparent to me that we had vastly different systems and issues to deal with. I want to travel to Van Nuys, Los Angeles, and possibly Marina Del Rey to update myself on the current conditions. I want to work closely with the Presiding Judges and the Regional Managers, particularly Mark Kahn, who has been heavily involved in trying to address the lien issues in the south. They have some good ideas, and we need to bring these issues under control because they are clogging up the Southern California boards at the expense of hearing the cases of injured workers.
Q: Have you given any thought to what you hope or think the role of the Court Administrator will be in your administration?
A: That is an area that I am looking at closely. I don’t have any clear answers to the question at this time. There are some inconsistencies between the Administrative Director and Court Administrator rules that can lead to communication difficulties and result in unclear divisions of authority. We had a prior system involving a Chief Judge, and I am looking at all potentials. There may be a need for legislative changes. The Court Administrator is someone I will be working closely with, and it is important to have a cooperative relationship.
Q: Medical treatment is currently cited as the biggest growth item in driving system costs up. We have already talked about liens. DWC has been without a Medical Director since Dr. Ann Searcy left more than two years ago, and without a Medical Unit Manager since Sue Honor departed quite some time ago. Do you have any plans to replace those positions?
A: Part of the problem with the Medical Director position has been the salary. We are having trouble recruiting candidates because qualified doctors are unwilling to give up lucrative practices. We are looking at the possibility of a part-time position, so a doctor could retain at least a portion of a private practice. There would have to be a way to avoid conflicts of interest, as the Medical Director could not be a QME. We may need to change the position description so we can get a good person on board. As for the Medical Unit Manager, that position oversees the QME panel process, and we need to fill it.
Q: So anyone who is interested should send you a resume?
A: By all means! It is a critical position.
Q: Unlike general fund agencies, DWC is entirely user funded. Despite this, DWC has been subjected to hiring restrictions, staff training cancellations, and has had budget cuts imposed, while at the same time employer and carrier assessments have gone up. Do you have any thoughts about how to cope with those issues?
A: The restrictions imposed have been by Executive Order from the Governor, so it is an order that we are complying with. DWC assessments have gone up for EAMS and for fraud prevention, and OSHA has been added as an agency that receives support from assessments. I certainly understand that the economy is incredibly weak, and there has been an executive determination that all state agencies have to share the burden of cuts equally. I plan to focus on what we can do most efficiently with the resources we have.
Q: How do you think your experience as a workers’ compensation judge will affect your work as AD?
A: I think I bring a focus of trying to solve problems and of practicality. I think that is the major quality that I can bring to this position. As a WCJ I think I will be more likely to engage in a weighing process of evaluating issues, without having a pre-existing agenda. That has been a part of my training that I think will serve me well. I think we need to focus on identifying appropriate goals and trying to achieve them with limited resources while trying to take into account the interests of incredibly divergent groups.
Q: Do you think you will be more involved in the judicial process than recent ADs because of your experience as a judge?
A: I think I will be more involved. I have already communicated with the WCAB Commissioners. There are two things I strongly believe in. The first is making practical decisions and the second is collaboration. The Commissioners and the Chair are all people I respect, and I want their input as with any other group. Collaboration will benefit the system, not detract from it.
Q: What insights from your trial level decisions can the public draw as to how you might approach the AD position?
A: I think that people would learn a lot about me from reading my decisions. I know there was some concern about my appointment because before I became a judge I was an applicants’ attorney for many years. However, if you look at my decisions I think that what you will see is that I will follow the law, sometimes even when I don’t like the end result. For example, in the Leverton[fn1] case I denied the death claim of a firefighter’s spouse and children because it was filed beyond the statutory time limit following an admitted injury to the firefighter. That case bothered me, and I said as much in my decision. But after reviewing all the case law and the applicable statutes, that was the correct legal decision to make. Sometimes you have to make those types of decisions.
Q: Although you are well known in the northern part of the state, many in the workers’ compensation community would like to know more about you as a person. Can you share a little about your personal history, such as where you grew up, your family history?
A: What many people don’t know about me, even those who know me well, is that I am half Filipino. My father is Irish, and my mother is Filipino. If you met my sister and brother, you would be surprised we were related. My sister looks completely Asian, and my late brother closely resembled a very large Hispanic male. I have a somewhat unique background because both of my parents were professors. I was born at Cornell University, and had the opportunity to travel a lot. I saw most of the world while I was growing up, and I think that has shaped how I view the world to a large extent. Another surprise might be that I am the first AD who personally has a blue-collar work background. My father was the first person in his family to obtain a college education, and was a World War II veteran who made good use of the GI Bill. He went on to get an advanced degree, but at the same time kept his blue-collar background. I am pretty sure that I am the first AD who personally worked as a maintenance mechanic. Right out of college, I got a job with the County of San Joaquin transporting juveniles in protective custody to court appearances. That got me interested in the law. At the same time, I did whatever basic maintenance to the facility was required, because even back then there were budget problems. I did painting, some simple plumbing, and it took me a year to replace every one of the fluorescent light ballasts in the building to eliminate flickering. I thought I would have a permanent crick in my neck by the time I got through. I also continued to work in my father’s business, which involved real estate maintenance and construction. That has given me a unique perspective as a judge, because when people talk about accidents I can often visualize how they might have occurred from personal experience.
Q: Although you were an applicants’ attorney, you also were a business owner as well. How has that affected your perspective?
A: It has definitely given me perspective about the issues that business owners face, particularly small businesses. I know first hand the pressures of trying to stay afloat while coping with labor costs, insurance costs, and still trying to stay competitive. Particularly in this new world economy it is really a balancing act, because you want to provide decent benefits and a living wage to your employees, but at the same time you must compete with businesses based elsewhere that have lower costs.
Q: How long have you lived in the Bay area?
A: I graduated from Berkeley High in 1978, and except for one year of living overseas after that, I have lived in the East Bay. I have owned a home in the Oakland hills for many years.
Q: What do you enjoy doing in your increasingly limited spare time?
A: I enjoy entertaining, and often have dinner parties. I like to cook and relax with my close friends. I also enjoy traveling, and hope to visit Spain and maybe Italy next. I went to Ireland last year and really enjoyed it. I have traveled often to the Philippines to visit family, and to Asia, and I want to explore Europe more.
Q: Any personal causes that are important?
A: I am very interested in encouraging young people to consider public service as a career. We always hear and see the negativity about working for government, such as low salaries, budget cuts, and threats of layoffs. But public service can be very rewarding and I think it is important to encourage young people to consider it as a career goal. Even with our limited resources, I believe that DWC can offer internships to students to acquaint them with different possible opportunities that are available, whether they be in the legal field, finance, or elsewhere. Even if there are no job openings now, they will gain valuable work experience that will serve them in the future, and they could also provided much needed help. If we can offer legal internships, judges could get some help with research and possibly with technology issues. It seems as though each younger generation finds coping with technology to be less of a challenge. When I was a law student, I was able to clerk for a constitutional scholar in the Philippines and visited the Supreme Court there. It was one of the most memorable and permanently affecting experiences I have had.
Q: You have become somewhat famous locally for the “haunted houses” you and some of your friends and colleagues have created inside the Oakland State Building to celebrate Halloween. From personal experience, I can say they are truly amazing and obviously involve a lot of hard work. What has motivated you to do this?
A: I have always enjoyed celebrating Halloween, because it is fun for everyone, involves children, and offers an opportunity to be someone different for a day. It isn’t a religious holiday, so everyone can join in and just have a good time. Over the years, I have collected a lot of Halloween props and it has been great to be able to put them to good use here at the office. Last time we made the haunted house, we asked people who came to visit it to donate a can of food. We were able to send seven 55 gallon drums of food to the Alameda County Food bank, which was also a rewarding outcome.
Q: Any “guilty pleasures” you are willing to admit to and share?
A: I must admit to an occasional Ben and Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk binge.
With that, Director Moran was off to attend a reception hosted by the Bay Area Bench and Bar Committee, which was quickly arranged following news of her appointment. Despite the short notice afforded and the inevitable conflicts caused by August summer vacations, an enthusiastic and large crowd attended the event, including Acting DIR Director Christine Baker, WCAB Commissioners Ronnie Caplane and Deidra Lowe, many current and former Bay area WCJs, and a diverse cross-section of attorneys and other professionals from all parts of the workers’ compensation community.
1. Susan Leverton (Widow), Donald Kent Leverton (Dec'd) v. Workers' Compensation Appeals Board, Contra Costa County Fire Protection District (2009) 74 Cal.Comp.Cases 874 (writ denied).
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