Equal Protection Appeal Turns to Challenges to Judiciary

A petition to the Supreme Court claims appellate court sought to protect status quo

A lawsuit that on face value deals with equal protection for public employees in workers’ compensation cases has grown into a challenge to the judiciary itself.

The case, which questioned whether workers’ comp cases were the territory of executive branch administrative law judges or judicial branch trial judges, got an answer from the Colorado Court of Appeals in May that upheld state case law in stating that ALJs should hear such cases. But now, the appellant’s lawyer is continuing the case with a Supreme Court petition saying that not only did the appellate court get its ruling wrong but it did so on purpose.

In the underlying case, Denver Water employee Michael Sanchez was hurt on the job and treated by Denver Water’s part-time doctor. When he complained of back pain again later, after it had first subsided, the doctor and a specialist said the pain was not work-related. Sanchez sought a disability claim, which an ALJ denied and a panel in the Industrial Claim Appeals Office agreed.

On appeal to the Colorado Court of Appeals, Chris Forsyth, a sole practitioner and Sanchez’s attorney, claimed it is a violation of the state constitution to have workers’ compensation claims heard by an ALJ. Forsyth expressed his concern that the Denver Water doctor as well as the ALJ who heard the case and, then later, the panel of Court of Appeals judges were partial and that his client’s case being heard by an ALJ was an equal protection violation.

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the August 14, 2017 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.