This is a second compliance monitoring and further inquiry update of the performance evaluation conducted in 1997 and the first compliance monitoring and further inquiry update conducted in 1998 on the Workers' Compensation Office of Judges (OOJ) as required by WVC 4-10-10a.

Issue Area 1: The Office of Judges Has Reduced the Number of Pre-June 1995 Protests in Its Backlog.

The Office of Judges reduced the number of pre-June 1995 cases in their backlog from 3,595 in 1998 to 1,751 in 1999. The OOJ's new computer system went online in June 1995. At the time of implementation, the system could not identify active cases prior to June 1995. Since the original performance evaluation, the Office of Judges addressed this problem and is now able to accurately identify the number of active cases in its data system and is in the process of completing them.

Recommendation 1:

The Office of Judges should complete all pre-June 1, 1995 protests through their appeals process in accordance with time standards as established in regulations.

Issue Area 2: The Office of Judges Continues to Improve Its Efficiency in Making Final Decisions.

Although a change in the law during the 1999 regular Legislative Session dropped the thirty day requirement, the Office of Judges has improved significantly in making its final decisions within thirty days since the original performance review. In 1997, compliance with this rule was 20%. In 1999 compliance reached 70%. It should be noted that the Office of Judges suffered a temporary setback this past summer when they had to switch to a new computer system that resulted in creating significant delays in issuing decisions. Once that bugs in this new system have been worked out the OOJ should soon be able to return to completing decisions in an efficient and timely manner.

Issue Area 3: The Office of Judges Has Eliminated Its Backlog of Cases Ready for Final Decision for Over 180 Days.

In the original performance review, 7% of OOJ cases awaited a final decision for over 180 days. The OOJ's elimination of cases waiting over 180 days for a final decision is a major improvement in its performance.

Issue Area 4: The Backlog of Permanent Total Disability Cases Decided by the Workers' Compensation Division Appears to Have Peaked and Is Beginning to Decline.

Permanent Total Disability (PTD) protests are the most complex received by the Office of Judges. The OOJ faced a potential crisis in 1997 resulting from special Judge Holiday's October 1997 ruling. The protests arising from this decision have peaked at an additional 116 PTD appeals monthly in 1998 and are now on the decline to an additional 68 PTD appeals monthly in 1999. However, it should be noted that the current number of additional PTD appeals is high compared to the norm and that it will take 6 to 10 months to conclude these cases from the date they are appealed.

Recommendation 2:

The Compensation Programs Performance Council should monitor the progress of the Office of Judges as it works to improve compliance with time standards.

Issue Area 5: The Office of Judges Has Reduced Its Use of Contract Attorneys.

The OOJ's expenditures on contract attorneys dropped by 73% since 1997. Since January 1999, expenditures fell 58%. This is a decrease from $1,627,600 in 1997 to $1,058,924 in 1998 and $409,100 in 1999.

Recommendation 3:

The Legislative Auditor recommends that the Office of Judges should continue in its efforts to reduce and eliminate the use of contract attorneys and appear before the Joint Committee on Government Operations during the 2000 Interim to give an oral presentation and provide a written status report on this issue.