Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission Personnel and Calendar Update
The New Commissioners and Arbitrators for 2020
We have been expecting changes in personnel at the Illinois Workers Compensation Commission for quite some time and the changes have finally occurred. In November 2018, in Illinois, there was a hotly contested governor’s race. It pitted incumbent governor, Bruce Rauner, a Republican businessman, against a Democratic rival, J.B. Pritzker, a labor union supporter. Both men spent enormous amounts of their own money to win the contest, though the cost really meant nothing to Pritzker who is a multi-billionaire. Pritzker won easily and took office in January 2019. Pritzker’s primary focus in the beginning of the year was to raise taxes and legalize sports betting and recreational marijuana. With a staunchly Democratic legislature supporting him Pritzker accomplished his goals and starting in 2020, marijuana and sports betting are legal in Illinois. A graduated state income tax will be on the ballot in November 2020.
Importantly, the state’s minimum wage law was changed and the new state minimum hourly wage is $9.25/hour effective 1/1/2020. This will continue to increase over the next five years to $15.00/hour. This change will affect the minimum TTD and PPD rates.
After Pritzker took office in January 2019, we expected him to make significant changes to the personnel at the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission and he did. Under Illinois law, the terms of half of the commissioners plus the chairman of the Commission terminate with the inauguration of the new Governor. Therefore, the terms of multiple Commissioners ended in January 2019 and Pritzker was able to appoint 6 out of the 10 current Commissioners.
Former Public Commissioner Michael Brennan was appointed the new chairman of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission and several of the other Commissioners were replaced.
The current lineup of Commissioners at the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission is as follows:
Michael Brennan, term expires 1/16/23
Commissioners by Panel
Employee Representative — Thomas Tyrrell, term expires 1/18/21
Public Representative — Maria Portela (appointed 3/15/19), term expires 1/16/23
Employer Representative — Kathryn Dorries (appointed 9/23/19), term expires 1/16/23
Employee Representative — Douglas McCarthy (appointed 3/15/19), term expires 1/16/23
Public Representative — Stephen Mathis, term expires 1/18/21
Employer Representative — L. Elizabeth Coppoletti, term expires 1/18/21
Employee Representative — Marc Parker (appointed 3/15/19), term expires 1/16/23
Public Representative — Barbara Flores (appointed 3/15/19), term expires 1/18/21
Employer Representative — Deborah Simpson, term expires 1/18/21
Members of the Commission are appointed by the Governor to a 4-year term with the advice and consent of the Senate. Commissioners serve until they are reappointed or their successors are named.
Governor Pritzker also wanted to change many of the arbitrators but the terms of office for arbitrators are on a completely different schedule that the Commissioners. The Arbitrators’ terms are for three years (instead of 4 years) and they expire July 1 rather than in January.
There are currently 34 arbitrator positions budgeted. As a result of resignations, terminations, promotions and retirements, there were only been about 25 arbitrators available to hear cases in 2019. Eight of the 25 arbitrators had their terms ending July 1, 2019. Although it was clear that Governor Pritzker wanted to replace some of those arbitrators whose terms were expiring, he failed to act timely to replace them. Pritzker had to terminate them by September 1, 2019 but he failed to do so. Instead, at the last minute, he decided to reappoint all of those 8 arbitrators. The list of reappointed arbitrators included Arbitrators Kurt Carlson, Carolyn Doherty, Greg Dollison, William Gallagher, Michael Glaub, Edward Lee, Molly Mason and Frank Soto. All of those arbitrators were reappointed and their 3 year terms will now expire July 1, 2022.
Despite the reappointment of those eight arbitrators, the Commission still had eight open arbitrator slots that could be filled. Moreover, we knew that at the end of 2019 there were going to be at least two arbitrator retirements. Arbitrator Greg Dollison and Christine Ory had both announced that they were going to retire at the end of 2019. Both of those arbitrators have in fact retired and their last hearing dates were in December 2019.
With so many open arbitrator positions both in Chicago and downstate, the current arbitrators have been forced to step in and handle status call and trial dates throughout the state. This has been particularly problematic in zone II where Arbitrator Maureen Pulia was the only permanent arbitrator assigned to three different status calls. Temporary arbitrators were assigned to appear in Urbana, Springfield and Quincy for almost all of 2019.
New Arbitrator Appointments
We knew that Governor Pritzker would make some appointments before the end of the year.
On October 25, 2019, Governor Pritzker appointed two new arbitrators. He appointed:
- Linda Jean Cantrell
- Christopher Harris
We knew more appointments were needed. Finally, on November 26, 2019, Governor Pritzker appointed six new arbitrators to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission.
The six new arbitrators are:
- Joseph Amarilio
- Deborah Baker
- Adam Hinrichs
- Elaine Llerena
- William McLaughlin
- Dennis O’Brien
All 8 of the new arbitrators are attorneys. Many of the new arbitrators have significant prior workers’ compensation trial experience. However, some have no past workers compensation experience whatsoever.
Please allow me to provide you with some background on each of the new arbitrators.
.Arbitrator Linda Jean Cantrell was admitted to practice in November 2002. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree from St. Louis University in 1998 and her Juris Doctor from Southern Illinois School of Law in 2002. Prior to her appointment, she was working as a plaintiff attorney for the law firm of Winters, Brewster, Crosby & Schafer. This is a plaintiff personal injury firm located in Marion, Illinois. It appears her entire legal career has been as a plaintiff personal injury attorney. We expect her arbitration assignment will be in southern Illinois since she lives in Southern Illinois.
Arbitrator Christopher Harris was admitted to practice law in 2010. Arbitrator Harris earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in political since from the University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana in 2005. He earned his law degree from the University Of Illinois College Of Law in 2008. His past work experience over the last nine years has been quite varied. He worked for about four years as general counsel for International Services, Inc., a company that provided management and tax consulting services. He operated a small law firm known as Johnson and Harris for about 2.5 years performing a variety of legal issues including real estate, insurance defense and criminal defense. Most recently, prior to his appointment, he operated a firm known as Shield Law Firm in general practice which included real estate matters, corporate transactions and business litigation. Arbitrator Harris does not appear to have any past background or experience in workers’ compensation or personal injury matters.
Arbitrator Joseph Amarilio is a senior attorney and has been a practicing attorney since 1979. Arbitrator Amarilio earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Northwestern University in 1975 and he received his Juris Doctor degree from John Marshall Law School in 1979.
Over the course of his 40 year legal career, he has worked for several different law firms but for many years he has been a senior partner at the petitioner’s workers’ compensation firm of Elfenbaum, Evers, Amarilio and Zielinska. According to his law firm profile, “Joe has represented injured workers and their families since 1979, passionately fighting for them against insurance companies and corporations.” He is clearly a very experience workers compensation practitioner and has been a plaintiff’s attorney for virtually his entire career.Arbitrator Deborah Baker was admitted to practice law in 2011. Arbitrator Baker earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from the University of New Mexico in 2008. She earned her Juris Doctor degree along with a Master of Arts in international and comparative politics from Loyola University in 2011. Since beginning practice, she has had a number of different positions which includes working as a staff attorney at the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission for about 2.5 years and as an associate attorney for the petitioner’s workers’ compensation law firm of Goldberg, Weisman & Cairo for about two years. She worked as an assistant attorney general for the Illinois Attorney General for about a year and most recently has been working for about a year at the Illinois Department of Corrections as an assistant deputy chief legal counsel and ethics officer. She is a member of the Black Women Lawyers Association, Salt and Light Coalition, Cabrini Green Legal Aid Board of Directors, Chicago Bar Association and Loyola University Chicago School of Law Diversity Counsel.
Arbitrator Adam Hinrichs was admitted to practice law in November 2006. Arbitrator Hinrichs earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in economics and management from Beloit College and his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign College of Law. He worked from 2007 to 2014 as an attorney/equity partner at the law firm of Elfenbaum, Evers and Amarilio (the same law firm as new Arbitrator Joseph Amarilio).
After leaving that law firm in 2014, he moved to Geneseo, Illinois which is a small town in northwestern Illinois near the Quad Cities. He reportedly had been managing a multiunit vacation rental property and volunteering at the Geneseo Community Center before applying for this position.Arbitrator Elaine Llerena has been a practicing attorney since 2003. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in English and criminology from Florida State University in 1997. She earned her Juris Doctor degree from John Marshall Law School in 2002. Her past work experience has included work for 2.5 years as an associate attorney at Beaulieu Law Offices doing general practice. However, most of her past employment was as a staff attorney at the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission for over 10 years. As a staff attorney, she worked for a Commissioner. Her job was to research and review cases on appeal from the arbitration to commission level.
Most recently, she has worked as a staff attorney in the labor and employment-ERISA field for the large law firm of Seyfarth Shaw LLP.Arbitrator William McLaughlin was admitted to practice in 1993. Arbitrator McLaughlin earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from St. Xavier College in 1990. He earned his Juris Doctor degree from the University Of Nebraska College Of Law in 1992.
His past work experience included working as a staff attorney for the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation, an Assistant State’s Attorney at the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and an associate at Delano Law Offices. Most currently, he was working as a solo practitioner in Palos Heights, Illinois performing general practice. To my knowledge, he has no prior workers’ compensation experience.Arbitrator Dennis O’Brien was admitted to practice law in 1978. Arbitrator O’Brien earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and government from Dominican University in 1975. He earned his Juris Doctor degree from the Loyola University Chicago School of Law in 1978. Attorney O’Brien worked as a prosecutor for the Lake County Illinois State’s Attorney’s Office for two years early in his career. However, for the past 39 years, he has been associated with the Springfield law firm of Livingston, Mueller, O’Brien and Davlin. His primary area of practice has been defending Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission cases. He brings a wealth of workers’ compensation experience to his position. He is the only appointment out of the 8 new arbitrators who has primarily done defense work.
All of the new arbitrator appointments to the Commission have actually begun working as arbitrators. All of the new arbitrators have been in training since their appointment slight more than a month ago. The arbitrator appointments do require Senate approval. However, we do expect all of these appointments to be approved. These are appointments made by a Democratic governor and the Democrats control the Senate by a margin of 40-19. None of these appointments would be considered controversial.
As expected, Arbitrators Ory and Dollison have now retired.
All of the new arbitrators have been given permanent assignments with the exception of new Arbitrator Deborah Baker. She has not yet been given a permanent assignment.
Currently, there are no open arbitrator positions. All of the new arbitrators have been either given open positions or positions occupied by retiring arbitrators. Furthermore, some of the current arbitrators have been reassigned to different roles and some of the new arbitrators have been assigned to those newly vacant positions.
I have created Chicago and downstate arbitration schedules for 2020 and I am attaching these documents. Please feel free to print them and save them so that you can follow the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission arbitration schedule.
In addition, I am attaching separate exhibits, a complete calendar of the 2020 Chicago Arbitration Schedule and the 2020 Downstate Arbitration Schedule. Those schedules do change from time to time and updates are available by visiting the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission website.
Not surprisingly, the new appointments as expected are more petitioner oriented. Out of the eight new appointments, at least four have worked primarily as plaintiff attorneys in personal injury cases, primarily workers’ compensation. Only one of the eight has a defense background.
Nevertheless, none of these changes are surprising. We don’t expect major changes in Workers Compensation decisions. We expect that we will continue to have success in defending cases by completing thorough investigations and developing evidence to prove our positions. None of the new Arbitrator or Commission appointments should give us a basis for changing the way we handle our defense of claims.