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Workers’ Comp E-Mail Causes Political Uproar

Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles lawyer set off a storm of controversy in Sacramento on Thursday after he urged physicians who evaluate injured workers for the state workers’ compensation program to oppose Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s reelection.

In an e-mail, attorney Lawrence I. Stern urged the doctors to give money to “help us get rid of Arnold” and warned them that an association of workers’ comp attorneys had “taken a pact NOT to support any doctor who has not contributed at least $2,500" to the campaign to defeat Schwarzenegger, according to a copy of the e-mail.

Doctors who work as workers’ comp examiners rely on injured employees’ lawyers as well as insurers for business because both sides must agree on the selection of a medical examiner.

Though it didn’t specifically call for contributions to the campaign of Democratic challenger Phil Angelides, Stern’s message elicited criticism from the governor’s administration and from business groups.

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The 2004 workers’ comp overhaul led to a sharp reduction in the insurance premiums paid by business and has been criticized as anti-worker by labor unions.

The Republican governor forged the compromise that led to the overhaul, and regularly has highlighted the results. Angelides, the state treasurer, has said little about the revamping.

Stern sent his message June 26 to Marlena Garland, a public relations consultant for 15 workers’ comp doctors in Southern California, she said. Two days later, she faxed Stern’s message to her clients along with a note saying, “I feel it is my job to send this to you and encourage you to contribute to the Angelides campaign,” according to a copy of the fax.

Stern did not respond to requests for an interview. Garland denied she had done anything improper but suggested Stern had “overstepped boundaries.”

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The communications by both Stern and Garland were denounced as improper and untrue by David N. Rockwell, president of the California Applicants’ Attorneys Assn., which represents lawyers for injured workers.

The association has no policy to force physicians to make campaign contributions, Rockwell said.

“Pressuring doctors involved in the workers’ compensation system compromises the impartiality of medical experts,” he said. “It is totally unacceptable.”

Nick Papas, a spokesman for the Angelides campaign, said the candidate had no connection to Stern’s message.

The e-mail, which quickly circulated among business lobbyists, prompted the state Division of Workers’ Compensation to post a notice on its website Thursday saying “it is neither ethical nor proper to attempt to coerce medical providers.”

Lobbyists for small business said they were concerned about a possible effort to weaken the 2004 overhaul. Joel Fox of the Small Business Action Committee, who has close ties to the Schwarzenegger administration, wrote to Angelides on Thursday, demanding that he spell out his position on whether workers’ comp laws need changing.

Papas, his spokesman, said Angelides didn’t want to revisit the entire legislative package but was interested in fine-tuning the law to make sure that “injured workers get the benefits they deserve.”


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