Tuesday, March 5, 2002
Donald Renetzky’s Disability Rating Would Not Prevent Him From Taking the Bench, His Lawyer Says
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer
An attorney for judicial candidate Donald Renetzky told the MetNews yesterday that his client’s 100 percent disability rating would not prevent him from working as a Superior Court judge.
“This is an injury to his feet, not his brain,” attorney Kenneth Rowen said.
Rowen said that the majority of Renetzky’s job-related injuries were to his lower extremities and his disability “does not affect his ability to function or reason.”
Because of his disability, Renetzky is required to have a sedentary job, elevate his feet, and he can’t walk very far, Rowen said.
Renetzky, an administrative law judge for the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board in Van Nuys, was deemed 100 percent permanently disabled in an order filed Aug. 16, 2001. His “qualified” rating from the Los Angeles County Bar Association was pulled Friday pending further investigation.
Lawyers for the State Compensation Insurance Fund have asked to reopen discovery in the matter in light of his Superior Court candidacy.
He is facing Deputy District Attorney Hank Goldberg and eldercare attorney Joseph “Joe” Deering in today’s election.
Rowen balked at the idea that Renetzky’s disability should be an issue in the judicial race.
“Why should disabled people be discriminated against?” Rowen asked.
Rowen described Renetzky as “a very fine judge” and as someone “who wants to serve this county despite his disability,” adding that Renetzky could have made much more money if he had continued to be in private practice than he is currently making as a workers’ compensation judge or he could as a Superior Court judge.
Renetzky has had to take time off work to have surgery, but that all of his surgical issues have been resolved, Rowen said. After having undergone surgery on one of his hands in the last couple weeks the administrative law judge is now back at work, but Rowen could not say with certainty whether he was handling a full caseload.
Renetzky was “conscientious enough to go back to work” following his most recent surgery, Rowen added, while other workers’ compensation judges take vacation mid-trial.
Rowen said he has known Renetzky since their days at the University of Southern California law school and used to appear in front of Renetzky before taking on his workers’ compensation case.
SCIF agreed to rate Renetzky 100 percent permanently disabled at the August settlement conference, and based on that rating agreed to pay him $490 a week for life—the maximum weekly payment an injured worker can receive through the workers’ compensation system.
A handwritten order lays out the stipulation between the two parties and orders SCIF to assume liability for treatment of Renetzky’s diabetes, a preexisting condition. The order is signed by Administrative Law Judge Charles A. Regnell, who sits in San Bernardino.
Renetzky is not currently receiving payments, Rowen said.
Since becoming an administrative law judge in June 1994, Renetzky has filed a total of eight claims with the workers’ compensation system, maintaining he suffered a variety of injuries while on the job, ranging from cumulative trauma to his right hand, wrist and arm, to a fractured femur that resulted from his tripping in his courtroom in 1996.
“The handwriting is on the wall,” Rowen said. Referring to SCIF, he added:
“You lost, you lost. He’s been rated 100 percent disabled…move on to the next case.”
Rowen said that the 100 percent disability rating was something that was not “conjured up” to benefit Renetzky. His client was given the rating by a SCIF qualified medical examiner, he said.
“This is something that [SCIF] chose to do,” Rowen noted.
Under the workers’ compensation rating system, the total of Renetzky’s injuries add up to 100 percent, Rowen said.
SCIF lawyers did not return calls for comment on the case.
On Friday, the Los Angeles County Bar Association withdrew Renetzky’s “qualified” rating “[b]ased on new information of a serious nature that has come to the [County Bar’s] attention.” Renetzky’s opponents, Deering and Goldberg, were both rated “well qualified” by the County Bar.
Renetzky was expected to participate in a judicial candidates’ forum in West Covina Sunday but failed to appear.
One of his opponents, prosecutor Hank Goldberg, alluded to the County Bar’s decision to pull Renetzky’s rating, calling it “a very dramatic maneuver that just happened Friday.” Later in the program he asked:
“How can you be a judge if you are disabled?”
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company