Courts • Two officials on leave as A.G.'s Office investigates allegations.
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The Utah Attorney General's Office is conducting an audit into revelations that a pair of state officials at the Utah Labor Commission destroyed documents in active workers compensation cases. The two are now on administrative leave.
That investigation, according to the A.G.'s Office, has been ongoing for a few weeks.
Another agency audit, initiated by Rep. Wayne Harper a few months ago, is looking at what he believes is the sluggish pace at which workers compensation cases are resolved.
But the Republican lawmaker was troubled to learn of charges that two Labor Commission administrative law judges Adjudication Division Director Richard LaJeunesse and Assistant Director Debbie Hann are accused of destroying documents in a letter written by Utah Labor Commissioner Sherrie Hayashi.
"I was appalled," Harper said Thursday. "That is totally unacceptable."
Hayashi's letter, dated June 14, detailed three instances where an administrative law judge appointed a panel to evaluate medical issues in disputed workers compensation cases and, upon finding the reports "deficient," ordered new ones.
The letter, first obtained by KUTV, then claims the judges destroyed the original reports.
Hayashi said in the letter that the actions of the judges were "contrary to my expectations for transparency and openness" in the commission's process. She said she learned of the judges' actions on June 6.
She wrote the commission has notified the attorneys in the three cases and they are being provided copies of the original reports. Hayashi placed the judges on leave "while I consider the ethical implications of their conduct and what further action is appropriate."
Hayashi also said the actions of the judges "prevent the parties from knowing that their cases are being handled fairly and correctly."
Phil Lott, assistant attorney general, said there is an ongoing investigation into the actions of the judges and he expected that audit to take about three weeks.
"We want to make sure the process is fair to everybody," Lott said.
Phillip Shell, a workers compensation attorney with 30 years experience, said his office learned of the suspensions through a Labor Commission notification process and said that, in Hann's case, it wasn't her rejection of the findings that was the problem but the way she handled it.
"She should've rejected the report, but she should've told the other attorneys what happened," Shell said. "I don't know why she just went and shredded it. She's got a lot of experience."
Both Hann and LaJeunesse are lawyers and were admitted to the Utah State Bar in 1987 and 1996, respectively. Both were recently honored with a Governor's Award for Excellence, according to a news release issued by Hayashi last month on the commission's website.
Attempts to reach Hayashi were unsuccessful Thursday.
Shell said he hoped the Legislative Auditor General's audit Harper initiated would uncover what he views are the main problems with the workers compensation process namely the medical panels themselves.
He said cases should only take about nine months to resolve, not years.
Shell said the Labor Commission needs to train doctors how to look at workers compensation cases sometimes recommending the dismissal of a claim because of a pre-existing condition instead of looking at what the law requires them to analyze in injury cases occurring on a job site.
"Sometimes it's a matter of who is willing to serve on these panels," Shell said. "Sometimes it's very conservative doctors. Sometimes they're just not well-trained in what to look for."
Harper said he knows of more than a dozen cases where it took more than two years and up to four years to be resolved. He said that is expensive for the worker, the company and the process.
"There's costs to retain attorneys, get expert witnesses you're suddenly running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars each year," Harper said.
He said he expects the audit into the Labor Commission process to be completed before the annual legislative session begins in January "so we can make statutory changes."