Appeals ruling goes against workers comp judges

A Missouri appeals court has ruled that the state can lay off three administrative law judges who challenged the state’s decision to scrap their positions as part of state budget cuts.

The state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations sought to eliminate the positions of five administrative law judges as of June 30, 2009, after the Legislature approved cuts to the agency’s budget. The judges consider workers’ compensation cases.

Three of the judges — Henry Herschel, Matthew Murphy and John Tackes — sued to keep their jobs, arguing that administrative law judges can only be removed after their terms expire or only upon the recommendation of an evaluation committee.

A lower court agreed with the judges and blocked the state from dismissing them.

But a three-member panel of the Western District Court Appeals overturned the lower court’s decision in a ruling last month. It found that lawmakers’ budget-cutting decisions were enough reason to authorize state labor officials to shrink the number of administrative law judges.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the judges had been dismissed.

An attorney representing the three administrative law judges did not immediately return a call seeking comment Tuesday. A spokeswoman for the state labor department did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

All three plaintiffs were appointed by former Republican Gov. Matt Blunt, and Herschel was Blunt’s general counsel.

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