Monday, March 4, 2002
LACBA Scraps Donald Renetzky’s ‘Qualified’ Rating Pending Probe
Lawyers for State Insurance Carrier Ask to Reopen Workers’ Compensation Case in Light of Court Candidacy
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
The Los Angeles County Bar Association on Friday withdrew its “qualified” rating of judicial candidate Donald Renetzky, two days after the MetNews reported that Renetzky, a judge for the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, was found to be 100 percent permanently disabled in a workers’ compensation action.
The MetNews also learned Friday that lawyers for the state’s insurance carrier have asked to reopen discovery and visit anew the disability issue in Renetzky’s workers’ compensation case in light of his candidacy for the Superior Court.
County Bar Judicial Election Evaluations Committee Chairman Gerald Chaleff declined to confirm the reasons for the unprecedented action, but said “we need to do an investigation to determine the accuracy of the reports” about Renetzky.
Justice Department official Brent Braun, chair of the subcommittee that evaluated Renetzky and his opponents, said that the “information we received we considered to be of an extremely serious and substantial nature.”
Chaleff also referred to a statement released late Friday by the association that the action was taken “[b]ased on new information of a serious nature that has come to the [County Bar’s] attention.”
He said Braun contacted Renetzky three or four times Thursday about the matter and asked for a written explanation by Friday.
Renetzky “has yet to respond,” Chaleff said late Friday.
Chaleff said that as far as he knew it was the first time the County Bar has withdrawn a rating.
Renetzky is facing Deputy District Attorney Hank Goldberg and eldercare attorney Joseph “Joe” Deering in Tuesday’s election. The County Bar rated both candidates “well qualified.”
Impact of Candidacy
In a Dec. 3, 2001 letter to Administrative Law Judge Charles A. Regnell, State Compensation Insurance Fund lawyer John Langevin claimed that Renetzky’s candidacy is relevant to his permanent disability rating.
“Given that the applicant is seeking an award of 100% permanent disability, at a minimum defendants should be entitled to discovery as to the physical demands of running for office and the basis of applicant’s apparent belief that he is physically capable of performing the essential functions of a Superior Court judge, and to the extent those duties may differ from applicant’s current duties,” Langevin wrote.
Regnell, who sits in San Bernardino, has not yet acted on Langevin’s request.
Renetzky, a hearing officer in the Van Nuys office of the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, has said that one of the major advantages he has over his opponents is that he is already doing the work of a judge.
At a mandatory settlement conference held on Aug. 16, 2001, SCIF agreed to rate Renetzky 100 percent permanently disabled, and based on that rating agreed to pay him $490 a week for life, the maximum an injured worker can receive through the workers’ compensation system.
In a pre-hearing statement dated Feb. 19, Renetzky lists as a witness his colleague at the Van Nuys workers’ compensation office, administrative law judge John Gutierrez, who is a candidate for a different Superior Court judicial seat.
Since becoming an administrative law judge in June 1994, Renetzky has filed a total of eight claims with the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board maintaining that he suffered injuries while on the job.
SCIF lawyers have asserted that Renetzky works full-time and carries the same caseload as other judges at the Van Nuys Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board.
In an Oct. 1, 2001 letter to Judge Regnell, Renetzky’s lawyer, Kenneth Rowen, disputed that claim.
“It is not entirely true that Judge Renetzky has been employed full-time at all times mentioned and relevant in this case,” Rowen wrote. “Similarly, it is not also true that he has worked 40 hours per week during all relevant times.”
But Rowen added that when Renetzky did work he carried a caseload comparable to other Van Nuys judges.
Rowen also contends that Renetzky was forced to use sick time, vacation and other compensatory time while he was out on disability for surgeries and other treatment.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company