Workers’ Comp Judge Fired After Politically-Connected Law Firm Complains to Governor’s Office
The Philadelphia Inquirer has unearthed a particularly juicy case about the firing of a workers’ comp judge after she ruled against a law firm with deep political connections.
“After repeatedly complaining about a workers’ compensation judge who ruled against them, lawyers at Pond Lehocky Stern Giordano tried a novel approach: The politically-connected firm passed a tip to a member of Gov. Tom Wolf’s cabinet last year that the judge, Andrea McCormick, was romantically involved with a local workers’ comp lawyer. Three months later, Judge McCormick was out of a job.”
The Inquirer reports that the tip by Pond Lehocky sparked a state investigation, finding that McCormick was “using her work computer to make online purchases and exchange personal photos, and sharing court decisions before they were officially posted online, among other alleged offenses.”
“McCormick’s termination, a rare occurrence, has raised concerns within the legal community that law firms with political clout are able to exert undue influence over the court system where they practice, potentially causing a chilling effect among judges,” the Inquirer said.
The Big Questions Answered
What are the main players in this story saying? David Stern, a partner at Pond Lehocky, told the Inquirer that the firm never asked for the judge to be fired but rather wanted her conduct as a whole examined. McCormick and her attorney declined to comment in the story and are appealing her firing to the State Civil Service Commission.
Was her judicial record one-sided against Pond Lehocky and injured workers? State officials say no. They checked 100 cases for bias but did not find any, the Inquirer reported.
Wait, what became of the judge’s alleged romantic relationship with a defense lawyer? That was true, according the the Inquirer.
“McCormick said she had dated Edward ‘Ted’ Carpenter Jr., of the firm Carpenter, McCadden & Lane, based in Media. But starting in March 2015, she recused herself from any of his cases or those of his firm, she said.”
That allegation apparently got the ball rolling on investigations into 6,000 emails and revelations that McCormick “had emailed uncirculated case decisions and other nonpublic information” and “used her state-issued computer or email account to purchase items online and receive personal photos.”
“There’s a feeling that law firms can get judges fired.” That’s a quote from an anonymous source in the Inquirer article. Others on the record, like W. Bourne Ruthrauff, co-chair of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s professional responsibility committee, offered similar sentiment.
Ruthrauff said that complaining to senior government officials about a judge’s rulings without the knowledge of the other party’s attorney, that would be an “assault on the independence and impartiality of such judges.”
But Abraham Reich, a lawyer representing Pond Lehocky, disagreed with that assessment. He said there was no violation of the rules of professional conduct and said the workers’ comp firm simply notified the appropriate authorities.
Pond Lehocky partners once owned a mail-order pharmacy. It’s called Workers First Pharmacy and it earned some notoriety after an Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News investigation.
It found that Pond Lehocky “had been referring clients to doctors, then asking the doctors in emails to send the patients to Workers First.” The Pond Lehocky partners have since divested from the firm, the Inquirer found.
“Legal and medical ethicists say the lawyer-owned pharmacy could lead to conflicts of interest and drive up medical costs. Workers First has billed insurance carriers upward of $4,000 per tube of compounded pain cream, which are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration,” the Inquirer said.
The battle between workers’ comp law firms and judges is raging everywhere.
An University of Chicago law professor wrote in Forbes that Illinois has “endlessly expanded the liability of employers, forgetting that the system was supposed to cover only employment-related injuries” and that the “bottomless workers’ compensation system has contributed to the state ranking as one of the most labor-expensive states.”
We’re certain that workers’ comp attorneys in the state have a different opinion.
We surveyed 512 workers’ comp professionals about their top challenges for 2019, and litigation management made the list: Taking a claimant to court over suspected fraud is also a risky proposition. No payer want to waste money on rewarding a fraudster, but the legal expense might not be worth the battle.
“In civil cases, most juries will rule in favor of the claimant,” Mario Pecoraro, president and CEO of Alliance Worldwide Investigation Group Inc told us.
Curious about how workers’ comp courts are ruling? Check out our wrap-up of six workers comp legal rulings covering everything from injury in a softball tournament to PTSD from a restaurant shooting. &