A legislative change to the workers’ compensation statute in 2016, however, made a party’s entitlement to one change of ALJ a matter of right, aligning it more closely to the procedure in the civil system.
Before last year’s change, in order to get a change of ALJ, a party had to file, within thirty days of the ALJ assignment, an affidavit alleging that the assigned ALJ had a personal conflict of interest or was actually biased and prejudiced against them. That usually required the application of a bit of fiction which strained ethical boundaries as well as created an awkward dynamic with the particular ALJ that might, and often did, require consecutive affidavits for every case assigned to that particular ALJ or run the risk of retribution in a later case.
Although the fact that a particular ALJ had a propensity for ruling in favor of claimants or carriers would never constitute proof of actual bias and prejudice, the Chief ALJ had always considered the filing of the affidavit to be a sufficient basis to grant a change of ALJ anyway.
When finally the affidavit process became a weapon for defense attorneys to disqualify ALJ’s who wouldn’t grant continuances on hearings or other accommodations, the process was abused and the Chief ALJ had had enough.
In the new statute, each party is entitled to one change of ALJ as a matter of right if the notice of change is filed within thirty (30) days of the issuance of the notice of hearing. (See A.R.S. §23-941(I)). Additionally a party can still file an affidavit for change of ALJ for cause based on a listed conflict of interest or for bias and prejudice even after exercising their automatic strike. They will, however, have to be prepared to prove that the ALJ is conflicted or actually biased and prejudiced or the change of ALJ will not be granted.
The new procedure for changing ALJs is a welcome development that eliminates the fiction of alleging that an ALJ is actually biased and prejudiced and hopefully will smooth relations between workers’ compensation attorneys and ALJs in the long run.