This is a compliance monitoring and further inquiry update of the performance evaluation conducted in 1997 on the Workers' Compensation Office of Judges (OOJ) as required by WVC §4-10-10a.

Issue Area 1: The Office of Judges Has Identified the Number of Pre-June 1, 1995 Protests in Its Inventory.

Last year's performance evaluation revealed that the Office of Judges had, by their estimates, between 6,000 to 8,000 protests that were filed prior to June 1, 1995 that their new computer system could not identify. The reason for the problem was that the agency's new computerized case management system was activated on June 1, 1995, and could not identify cases filed prior to the system's activation date. The OOJ completed a project in June 1998 that identified all 3,595 pre-June 1, 1995 protests that were in the OOJ's inventory. These cases have now been placed in a time frame for completion.

Issue Area 2: The Office of Judges Has Improved Its Compliance in Making Final Decisions Within Thirty Days But Still Meets the Time Line in Less than Half of All Protests.

OOJ's 1997 performance evaluation showed an average compliance rate of approximately 25% on making final decisions within thirty days as required by WVC §23-5-9. This update shows an increase in the average compliance rate of approximately 40%. The OOJ achieved a high of 51% for the month of August 1998. This is the first time that the OOJ has achieved over 50% compliance in writing final decisions while operating at full capacity.

The number of protests that have had final hearings and are awaiting decisions has decreased from 3,254 in 1997 to 2,072 as of October 31, 1998. Of cases that are past the thirty day requirement, this is a reduction of 52%. The 1998 number also represents the approximate number of decisions that the OOJ writes each month which is around 2,000 decisions. This means that the majority of protests waiting final decisions should be completed within the mandated thirty day time period.

Issue Area 3: Backlog of Permanent Total Disability Cases Decided by the Workers' Compensation Division Is Beginning to Impact the Caseload of the OOJ.

The OOJ has inherited a backlog of Permanent Total Disability (PTD) cases from the Workers' Compensation Division as a result of a court order made on October 9, 1997 by Judge James Holliday; Judge Holliday was appointed by the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia and is situated in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County to conduct all proceedings pertaining to Workers' Compensation on behalf of the Supreme Court of Appeals. This order forced the Workers' Compensation Division to render decisions on approximately 1,500 "Old Law" Permanent Total Disability (PTD) cases by February 15, 1998 and approximately 2,500 Ferrel "Old Law" PTD cases by June 15, 1998. The OOJ expects a two-thirds appeals rate from these cases. This has already caused an increase of seven times from 1997 and an increase of thirteen times from 1996 in the number of PTD cases protested to the OOJ.