Winter is here and just a few days remain in the year. Much has been said about 2020, and understandably the theme overall has ranged from disappointment to sorrow. It’s been a year for reflection and re-evaluating priorities. As a court, we strived to stay positive and focused on our mission, despite the adversity.
Judge Kenneth Switzer
What follows is a look back at the year, including steps taken during the pandemic to maintain operations, and lessons learned along the way.
- Procedures were altered for settlement approval hearings, going from in-person to telephone. In the weeks since then, the judges approved 4,893 settlements paying $89,040,223 in benefits. In the process, we learned that we could be flexible when the circumstances warranted it.
- In-person hearings were re-instituted once the emergency order was lifted and protocols for safe, in-person court appearances were adopted. We also maintained the option of on-the-record determinations and telephone hearings, and a few judges accommodated videoconference hearing requests. We learned we could solve problems for everyone’s health and safety.
- The bureau’s annual Education Conference adapted to the virtual format. Several judges presented and the now-familiar ethics skit re-emerged, with a timely, tongue-in-cheek look at Zoom mediation. In that skit, we realized we hadn’t lost our sense of humor.
- The annual survey of practitioners yielded overall high marks for judges’ performance. Attorneys were asked to rate them on a five-point scale. They gave the following composite ratings: legal ability, 4.7; written decisions, 4.6; temperament, 4.8; diligence, 4.8; and impartiality, 4.6. A survey of self-represented litigants yielded less positive results. So, we learned that this is an area for improvement, and we re-dedicated ourselves to better serving you where we can.
- Along these lines, the bureau released a fully revised booklet for self-represented persons. The court and the Appeals Board combined their two previous books into one, updating the law, using even more plain language and inserting checklists for added ease of use. We learned that we can always simplify. Always.
- The bureau administrator, Abbie Hudgens, reappointed seven judges: Kenneth Switzer, chief judge, Nashville; Brian Addington, Gray; Pamela Johnson, Knoxville; Lisa Lowe, Knoxville; Thomas Wyatt, Chattanooga; Allen Phillips, Jackson; and Deana Seymour, Memphis. We’re humbled regarding what an honor it is to serve all Tennesseans. We also once again realized that the practitioners we see daily are patient, hard-working, dedicated to their clients and committed to the system. We’re grateful for all you do.
So, if you’re still reading, it’s been a challenging year for certain, but also a productive time. We remain hopeful and soldier on into 2021.
Kenneth M. Switzer is chief judge in the Tennessee Court of Workers' Compensation Claims, Nashville. This entry is republished with permission from the court's blog.