Crist Replaces Controversial Work Comp Judge

Dec 1, 2008

Workers’ Comp Central–December 1, 2008

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist issued 11 appointments and reappointments of state judges of compensation claims (JCCs) Wednesday and made good on an earlier pledge to replace controversial Jacksonville JCC William Dane.

Crist told Dane last July he planned to replace him – nine months after the Florida First Court of Appeal ordered Dane to remove himself from the workers’ compensation cases of two Jacksonville police officers and two other injured workers because of allegations that Dane was biased towards the defense.

Dane, who was appointed to the Jacksonville workers’ compensation bench by former Gov. Jeb Bush in 2003, has remained on the bench without reappointment since his term expired on Sept. 21, 2007.

In prior interviews, one Jacksonville mediator and attorney told WorkCompCentral he warns injured workers of the “Dane factor” when advising them on whether or not to take their cases to trial.

Chief Judge Robert Cohen told Crist last year that Dane needed to attend a workshop to address bias allegations. Cohen said in one case Dane ended a contested hearing over attorneys’ fees due Jacksonville attorney Marc Hardesty by writing “3,500” on a legal pad and handing it to the attorneys. Cohen said the attorneys settled for that amount.

In a 20-page report Cohen sent to Crist in June 2007, the chief judge said Dane was viewed favorably by defense lawyers. But Cohen said he found no solid evidence of bias.

“Judge Dane has made comments that, even if made jokingly, could lead reasonable people to believe that he has a predisposition in a particular case on a particular issue,” Cohen said.

Despite the pressure to remove Dane, claimants’ attorneys said it would break precedent for Crist, a Republican, to replace a judge appointed by Bush.

On Wednesday, amid a flurry of Thanksgiving Day eve appointments, Crist broke the political precedent and named 60-year-old attorney Stephen L. Rosen of Tampa to replace Dane in Jacksonville effective Jan. 1. Rosen will serve until Jan. 1, 2012.

Neither Dane nor Rosen could be reached for comment Wednesday. But Nelson Cuba, president of the Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police, said he wished Crist had acted sooner.

“We sure wish the governor had gotten him out of there quicker,” Cuba said. “In the meantime, our members have been suffering. This is relief for the little person.”

He said Rosen is viewed as a veteran compensation expert and a strong advocate for workers.

“He’s got an understanding of what injured workers’ needs are, and we think he’ll be fair,” Cuba said.

In Wednesday’s actions, Crist made a second new appointment to the 32-judge JCC system, naming a circuit mediator and consultant for Orlando-based defense firm Kelly, Kronenberg, Gilmartin, Fichtel and Wander.

Crist named Joseph Farrell, 57, of Orlando, to fill an Orlando vacancy created when Judge John P. Thurman transferred to the JCC offices in Gainesville. He takes office Dec. 8 and will serve through Dec. 8, 2012.

Crist also reappointed nine JCCs:

  • Gerardo Castiello, 45, of Miami, for a term ending April 5, 2013.
  • James W. Condry, 51, of Orlando, for a term ending Aug. 26, 2012.
  • Charles M Hill, 63, of Miami, for a term ending Aug. 15, 2012.
  • Mark H. Hofstad, 56, of Lakeland, for a term ending Feb. 15, 2012.
  • Ellen H. Lorenzen, 58, of Tampa, for a term ending Aug. 1, 2012.
  • Robert McAliley, 66, of Fort Pierce, for a term ending Aug. 1, 2012.
  • Sylvia Medina-Shore, 43, of Miami, for a term ending March 12, 2012.
  • Thomas Glenn Portuallo, 47, of Daytona Beach, for a term ending Feb. 1, 2012.
  • Shelley H. Punancy, 60, of West Palm Beach, for a term ending March 13, 2012.

By Michael Whiteley, Eastern Bureau Chief