Crist won’t reappoint judge

Jun 26, 2008

A year after receiving a formal report accusing a Jacksonville workers compensation judge of bias, Gov. Charlie Crist has decided not to reappoint the judge to a second term.

By Paul Pinkham,
The Florida Times-Union--June 26, 2008

The decision thrilled officials with two of Jacksonville’s largest unions, who had complained that Compensation Claims Judge William Dane favored employers in workers comp cases.

Crist’s general counsel wrote Dane on Tuesday, informing him of the governor’s decision. The letter, obtained Wednesday by the Times-Union, says Dane can remain on the bench until Crist appoints a successor, a process the governor’s office said generally takes about 90 days.

Dane, who handled about 1,400 disputed workers compensation claims last year, didn’t respond to an e-mail Wednesday night. Like most judges, his telephone number and address are unlisted.

“I think it’s great,” said Jacksonville Association of Fire Fighters President Randy Wyse, when notified of Crist’s decision. “He showed some bias and now hopefully we can get somebody in there who will look at each case on its own merits. We know we won’t win them all, but we just want a fair and unbiased hearing.”

Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police President Nelson Cuba said he hopes Dane’s departure sends a message to any judge or official who shows bias against workers.

“At the end of the day, this is a victory for the working person,” Cuba said.

Dane was criticized in a report by the chief of Florida’s Division of Administrative Hearings last June that was requested by Crist after he received bias complaints from Cuba and four lawyers who practiced in front of Dane.

The report didn’t recommend that Crist remove Dane but concluded his actions created at least the appearance of prejudice against workers. Among its findings was a phenomenon known as the “Dane factor,” in which workers with cases before the judge were advised to settle because they couldn’t win before him.

“It led to a lack of confidence,” said Jacksonville lawyer Jake Schickel, a frequent workers compensation mediator interviewed in the report. “All of us that are practitioners and citizens want the judge to be of the very highest quality and standards. If for any reason that doesn’t happen … it reflects on the system.”

Formal complaints about Dane first surfaced in April 2007, when Jacksonville lawyer Marc Hardesty testified against him before a judicial nominating panel. He and three other Jacksonville lawyers took the rare step of filing formal complaints that led to Dane recusing himself from any case handled by Hardesty’s law firm.

Like other lawyers, Hardesty was reluctant Wednesday to offer further criticism. “I stand by the evidence I offered in the formal process,” he said.

Dane’s first term expired last fall, but he remained on the bench pending reappointment. Administrative judges are part of the executive branch, serving at the discretion of the governor, and aren’t subject to discipline by the state Supreme Court like those in the judicial branch.

Crist’s office notified the Statewide Commission for Judges of Compensation Claims on Tuesday of the impending Jacksonville vacancy. It has 30 days to recommend up to six names, and the governor then has 60 days to choose a replacement.