Baton Rouge, LA – Several of Louisiana’s preeminent legal authorities recently convened at the Louisiana Supreme Court, at the invitation of Honorable Bernette Johnson, Chief Justice, for a series of in-depth discussions highlighting the distinct challenges faced by appellate court judges and workers’ compensation judges when reviewing and adjudicating cases, respectively.
Judge Sheral Kellar, Assistant Secretary of the Office of Workers’ Compensation Administration (OWCA), and Honorable Sylvia Cooks, Judge, Louisiana Third Circuit Court of Appeal, organized the event as an opportunity for the state’s workers’ compensation judges to exchange information, queries and experiences with judges of the appellate courts in an effort to foster understanding and debunk misconceptions that could impact judicial rulings.
In Louisiana, workers’ compensation cases are first heard by one of 15 appointed workers’ compensation judges. If a claimant chooses to appeal the decision, the case moves to one of five circuit courts of appeal, where an appellate court judge renders an appellate decision affirming or denying the trial court ruling of the workers’ compensation judge. A final appeal may be taken to the Louisiana Supreme Court if the high court decides to accept writs. Clarity of the administrative processes referenced and uncommon verbiage used in the trial court’s decision is what organizers say is essential to maintaining the highest caliber of review expected by appellate court judges.
“It’s important that workers’ compensation judges and appellate judges engage in a constructive dialogue like this,” said Chief Justice Bernette Johnson. “We’ve got to speak the same language and possess the same common understanding of the law and best practices.”
Chief Justice Johnson engendered the concept for the conference several years ago as a means of improving the administration of workers’ compensation cases and creating a more effective relationship between the OWCA and the state’s judiciary system. “Workers’ Compensation is an area of law that deeply affects the lives of people here in Louisiana, and it’s our obligation to be sure that the process works as it should,” Johnson said.
Two other associate justices from the state’s high court, Justice Jefferson Hughes and Justice James Genovese, also offered insights to attendees from their experiences on the bench. Justice Genovese acknowledged the need for appellate court judges to become more familiar with the field of workers’ comp. “We need some training and exposure in workers’ comp and that is important. I’m very pleased that we are finally having an opportunity to meet one another, talk with one another and share ideas.”
Organizers say the joint judicial conference was the first of its kind in Louisiana, and hope to continue hosting the gathering on an annual basis.
“Our agency is deeply honored to have been tasked by Chief Justice Johnson to organize such a prestigious event for Louisiana’s judicial community,” said Ava Dejoie, Secretary of the Louisiana Workforce Commission. “We recognize the importance of such collaborative efforts in facilitating the needs of injured workers throughout Louisiana, and look forward to witnessing the inevitable progress spawned by these thought-provoking exchanges.”
“We also applaud the tireless work of Assistant Secretary Kellar in helping to bring this momentous occasion to fruition,” Dejoie said. “Sheral not only possesses a keen understanding of the law, but a passion for assisting the state’s injured worker population, and is the definition of a servant leader.”