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Stress Award Given to Man Who Used to Grant Them

November 16, 1986|ROBERT W. WELKOS | Times Staff Writer

During his years on the Los Angeles Board of Pension Commissioners, Karl Moody watched and listened as police officers trooped in, one by one, to bare their deepest psychological burdens and explain why they could no longer endure the mental stress of being policemen.

And, in numerous cases, Moody, who at the time was a Los Angeles police sergeant, voted to award his fellow officers stress-connected disability pensions.

Today, the former commissioner is himself receiving a workers compensation award worth more than $25,000--based, in part, on stress Moody said he suffered in deciding whether policemen deserved disability pensions, according to city and state documents.

"I was agonizing over these cases because I was a policeman," Moody told The Times. "I'm not going to say my duties caused all my hypertension, but I didn't have hypertension until I became a member of that board.

"The thing that really bothered me was the requirement that I was passing judgment on police officers I worked with and had known over the years," he added. "At times, I voted to deny pensions to persons I respected."

Moody said doctors told him that because of his high blood pressure, he was headed for "Strokesville."

Moody said his current job is less taxing. A lawyer, Moody and his law firm represent a number of law enforcement officers seeking workers' compensation benefits and attempting to obtain stress-related pensions from the board on which he once sat.

"I find that my work as an attorney is far less stressful than anything I did in the last five, six or seven years on the Police Department," he said. "That's because I'm more in control of things now."

Apparently First

Moody's disability award apparently is a first among the scores of commissioners who serve on boards throughout city, regulating everything from the Police Department to the harbor. "This is the first time to my knowledge that any city commissioner has been compensated for stress," said Gary Mattingly, pension department general manager. "I was surprised when I heard of it."

Moody, 45, served as the police representative on the pension board from 1980 to September, 1984, when he retired after 20 years on the force. During that period, a record number of officers sought and often won disability pensions based on mental stress of their jobs.

A 1985 Times study found that during that five-year period, a total of 175 officers won tax-free lifetime pensions for stress-related disorders, accounting for almost half the disability pensions awarded.

The board is composed of seven commissioners. Five are appointed by the mayor and the remaining two are elected from the ranks of city firefighters and policemen.

Mountain of Reports

To prepare for each weekly meeting, the commissioners are presented with a mountain of often contradictory medical reports, work histories, transcripts from state workers' compensation hearings and other documents. Unlike many city commissions, the board does not have a staff recommendation for guidance.

Like the officers who once paraded before him, Moody underwent a series of medical examinations, during which he recounted the pressures of serving on a powerful board that decides the fate of hundreds of men and women.

"He would agonize over evaluation of these cases and whether they were legitimate or whether they were phony claims," wrote Dr. Richard N. Shaw, a Los Angeles internist hired by the city to evaluate Moody's workers' compensation claim.

Shaw wrote that Moody would "wake up in the middle of the night grinding his teeth," anguishing over his decisions.

Another internist who evaluated Moody, Dr. James G. Dahlgren, found that he had been "exposed to chronic occupational emotional stress in the course of his employment on the pension board."

'Most Stressful Job'

"Mr. Moody indicates that the police work itself never bothered him," Dahlgren wrote in his evaluation. Instead, Moody found the pension board "the most stressful job he had ever had in his life," the physician continued.

Dahlgren said Moody once "voted to deny a pension because he felt the pensioner was a phony and found out later that the pensioner was actually sick. . . . This error preyed on his mind a lot."

Moody also believed that while he himself was putting in long hours, the mayorally appointed civilians on the board "did not take the work too seriously," Dahlgren wrote.

The board duties, coupled with his assigned police job of teaching law 32 hours a week at the Police Academy, occasionally left Moody working weeks without a day off, the doctor wrote.

Read Every Page

"I read every single page of every file before I was willing to vote on a case," Moody said. "I spent 25, sometimes 30 hours a week reading those cases. I wasn't paid for that."

Moody found that this prolonged reading "caused him to experience numbness in the right arm," Dahlgren wrote.

Veteran pension board member Bert Cohen, who sat next to Moody for years during meetings, said he understands why Moody suffered stress.

"He operated under a different kind of strain than the rest of the guys did," Cohen said. "It probably was warranted for him. He used to read everything word for word. Everything underlined exactly. He would dig into a case history file. Karl really was one of those who would literally library research everything. Maybe his makeup just caused it."

Straightforward Case

Deputy City Atty. Howard Fox, who negotiated Moody's award, said Moody's claim was a "clean, straightforward case," which was uncontested by the city.

After leaving the board, Moody spent five months as a prosecutor in the Los Angeles County district attorney's office and then went into private practice.

"It was not that he was hot to get out there and make big bucks," Fox said. "I think it was hurting so much he felt it was time to pull the plug. Karl is a straightforward guy. There's no game-playing with him."

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