Governor Taps High School Classmate to Fill WCAB Vacancy

Originally published by WorkCompCentral, authored by Greg Jones

California Gov. Jerry Brown tapped a high school classmate to fill one of three vacancies on the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board, and to get a hefty raise in the process.

The governor on Friday appointed 80-year-old Juan Pedro Gaffney of Sebastopol to the WCAB. The position pays $147,778 a year.

Gaffney, a Democrat, brings to the job more than 40 years of experience directing a chorus in San Francisco, and one year of public sector experience serving on the panel that providers quasi-judicial review of licensing decisions by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, which paid $25,500.

Gaffney is not an attorney and does not appear to have any history with the state’s workers’ compensation system. But he does have what appears to be a more than 50-year-relationship with the governor, with whom he attended high school in the 1950s.

Brown and Gaffney both graduated from St. Ignatius College Preparatory school, a Jesuit high school in San Francisco, in 1955. Both men appear in a photo with other graduates from the class of ’55 that was printed in the spring 2012 quarterly magazine for St. Ignatius.

The governor’s press office did not respond to questions Monday about the appointment. A message left for Gaffney was not returned.

System users who talked to WorkCompCentral on Monday weren’t sure what to make of the appointment. While the Labor Code allows for two of the seven members of the WCAB to be non-attorneys, and the board has been short-staffed since at least 2014, observers said they don’t know Gaffney and don’t know what to expect with his appointment.

Alan Gurvey, managing partner of the applicants’ law firm of Rowen, Gurvey & Win in Sherman Oaks, said commissioners are expected to untangle what can be complicated questions.

A concept such as whether an injury arises out of and in the course of employment — which Gaffney will soon have to learn by its more common acronym AOE/COE — is straightforward. But the case law is not so clear on when apportionment is required and how apportionment analyses should be performed, he said.

Utilization review and independent medical review are also areas where the law is still being developed — and another potential hazard for someone just learning about the comp system.

While it may be a lot to try to learn the comp system on the fly, Gurvey said the community needs to “give him a chance” to show that he can do it. He also said he doesn’t know anything about Gaffney and wasn’t going to comment on the appointment until he has some evidence upon which to base his opinion.

Gurvey said a new set of eyes bringing a new perspective to the WCAB could be a good thing, and he chooses to be “optimistic” about the appointment.

Defense attorney Richard “Jake” Jacobsmeyer, founding partner of Shaw, Jacobsmeyer, Crain & Claffey in Oakland, said he doesn’t know what to expect with the appointment, but he noted that successful commissioners don’t always come from within the workers’ compensation community.

Colleen Casey was an attorney at a San Francisco firm specializing in executive compensation, retirement plans and employee benefits when Gov. Pete Wilson appointed her to the WCAB. Ronnie Caplane’s status with the State Bar of California was inactive when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger first appointed her to the WCAB.

Jacobsmeyer said both Casey and Caplane were both good judges despite coming to the position without much industry knowledge. Whether Gaffney follows suit remains to be seen, but in the meantime, Jacobsmeyer pointed out, the appointment gives the WCAB an odd number of commissioners, which forestalls the possibility of a split decision.

Jason Marcus, president of the California Applicants’ Attorneys Association, said he welcomes a new perspective and viewpoint from a new commissioner. Marcus also said he hopes Gaffney will take the opportunity to learn about the workers’ compensation system at education courses presented throughout the year.

“As far as his lack of legal experience (I believe he is the only current non-lawyer appointee) and lack of general experience in workers’ compensation, we hope he will be a quick study with the wealth of knowledge he will be exposed to from his fellow WCAB commissioners,” Marcus said in an email.

The governor’s office said in a statement that Gaffney is director at Coro Hispano de San Francisco as well as a vice president of the Instituto Pro Musica de California., which sponsors the chorus. The chorus is “dedicated to exploring and performing the choral literature of the peoples of Latin America, Spain and Portugal,” according to its website. However, it also appears that the chorus has not held a concert since January 2012.

For the past year, Gaffney served on the Alcoholic Beverage Control Appeals Board. During his confirmation hearing in January, he told members of the Senate Rules Committee that he entered the public sector after his career in “community music” came to a close.

During the confirmation hearing, Gaffney said after learning about the Alcoholic Beverage Control Appeals Board, “I applied to serve on it bringing an ordinary citizen’s skill set and perspective to its work with the department to assure a fair and equitable application of law for the benefit of all.”

The full Senate in January voted 27-10 to confirm Gaffney’s appointment to the ABC appellate panel. All 10 votes against the nomination came from Republicans.

The Senate will have to go through the same process of confirming Gaffney’s appointment to the WCAB within a year.