Workers' Compensation

Spotlight on the Workers’ Compensation Judiciary

An Interview with Presiding Judge Stuart Crymes—Salinas District Office of the WCAB by Judge Therese DaSilva, Oakland District Office of the WCAB

Presiding Judge Stuart Crymes has served as a workers’ compensation judge since October 15, 2001 at the DWC Salinas District Office.  He was promoted to presiding judge about six years ago.  Judge Crymes has been spending time during the pandemic reading books and watching “a ton” of movies and shows.  Some of his favorites are Stranger Things, The Night Of, and he is looking forward to the new series called Utopia starring John Cusack.  The presiding judge is an early riser:  at 5:30 a.m. each day Judge Crymes and his wife set off on their daily walk, doing two rounds together for an hour when she will leave and he continues on for another 30 minutes.  This way, he is always early for work, even during the pandemic.

How is the Salinas Board faring during this pandemic?

Things here look different with the lock down.  Normally, we have 14 people working in the office, but now we are down to four or five.  We have a few employees who work exclusively at home.  But on any given day, we always have a judge, a secretary, an Information and Assistance Officer and a court reporter.  

In Salinas, people are using teleconference system and we have started video trials.  In some ways, the teleconference system is more efficient.  For example, attorneys are able to appear at two or three Boards a time, so there are fewer conflicts and the handling attorney can actually handle all of their own conferences.  This is a good thing.  Also, I find that attorneys appearing by phone are better prepared.  When I call a case and I ask about the issues and what has been done, there are more dispositions.  Attorneys are contacting each other beforehand and doing a lot of work ahead of time.  We complete settlement calendars quicker.  This is good as I have more work to do.  The day before conferences, I will prepare minutes of hearing for each case by hand.  When this is over, I could see a use for some telephonic appearances which are in some ways more efficient, but I am ready to go back because I miss the social aspect of this job and the people!

Have you noticed a change in the volume of work?

The judges’ tasks and the mail volume has increased because there is no walk through calendar.  Before, if someone filed a settlement but forgot to include a document and was appearing before me, I could ask them to provide the missing wage statement or the missing notice.  Now, I must do OSA (Order Suspending Action) and send that out which results in more work for everyone.     

Do you have any advice to new attorneys and new judges who may be starting work during this difficult time?

Get to know each other.  Ask good personal questions and develop a rapport.  Don’t forget about the personal aspects of this business, it is not just about reconsideration petitions and settlements.  Look for ways to be creative:  some attorneys come in with a certain agenda for obtaining a new panel or wanting to go forward on an issue, but try to redirect your focus on informal ways of settling cases and issues.  The Salinas Board is civil, cordial, and pleasant by reputation.  The attorneys in Salinas are a relatively cohesive group, with a good rapport who respect each other even in litigation, and we do a fair amount of trials here.   Yet the stress is low because the practitioners avoid the personal involvement.  So when there are personality clashes, you really notice it and acrimony and tension there.   The three judges here have very close communication, before we would eat lunch together each day to brainstorm and share information.  Back when I was hired, I was living in San Mateo so this location was not my first choice but everything has worked out and this is an excellent community.

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