Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Selection of Labor Judge Secretive

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Selection of Labor Judge Secretive

Article excerpt

Secretary Lana Gordon engaged the Kansas Department of Labor's public relations machinery to celebrate hiring of an administrative law judge to grapple with workers' compensation conflicts in Topeka.

Gordon said she was impressed by Steven Roth's background advocating for people claiming work-related injuries, as well as defending businesses trying to deflect complaints filed by employees.

The secretary pointed to Roth's career in this specialized field of law and 22 years of service as a magistrate judge. She said Roth would be a quality addition to the cadre of judges dealing in workers' compensation disputes.

Roth was the second choice of the state's nominating committee. The initial selection by the panel, lawyer Julie Sample, was tossed by Gordon. Sample has worked in the field since 1997 and possesses previous experience as an administrative law judge.

In response to a reporter's question about why Sample was an inadequate nominee, the labor secretary declined to comment. Instead of owning her decision, she dodged inquiries by hiding behind a "personnel matter" banner.

If liberated by policy on personnel confidentiality to praise her choice of Roth, ought she be able to explain in equal measure why Sample was wrong for the same job?

The thread of self-serving secrecy extends to the Workers' Compensation and Employment Security Board Nominating Committee. It was set up by the Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback to vet applicants for administrative law positions. The board handles vacancies among the 10 judges assigned workers' compensation cases statewide.

The committee elected to interview finalists and deliberate about applicants behind closed doors, but take final votes in public. There is no clear statutory requirement that the committee perform duties in the closet.

During the meeting, in which the committee voted to send Sample's name to the labor secretary, committee member Harvey Sorensen first nominated Britt Nichols. …

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