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David L. Rosen, 85; Longtime Judge on Workers' Compensation Appeals Panel

June 02, 2004|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

David L. Rosen, former presiding judge of the state Workers Compensation Appeals Board for the Los Angeles area, has died. He was 85.

Rosen died Thursday at Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo after falling in his home in Laguna Niguel, said his wife, Bette.

The administrative court in which Rosen presided for three decades hears disputes over benefits available to employees disabled by job-related injuries or illnesses, including politically charged cases of public officials seeking disability retirements because of stress.

The judge attracted headlines in 1978 when he defied a superior's orders to close workers' compensation case files to the public. He was suspended, then reinstated two days later but stripped of his presiding judge status.

It took him two years to win back the position, with a Superior Court ruling in 1980 that overturned his demotion and vindicated his actions.

"There is no power to tell me to withhold from the public things that are the public's business," Rosen told The Times when he challenged the directive.

At issue was the California Information Practices Act of 1977, which shielded from public scrutiny any "personal or confidential information" collected by state agencies.

Rosen's boss, Franklin O. Grady, director of the state Department of Industrial Relations, ordered that all workers' compensation case files be closed to conform to the law. He said the blanket secrecy was necessary because he lacked the staff to sort through files and determine what could be released and what had to be closed to protect workers' privacy.

"Once you have a claim for compensation benefits under our system, which is a judicial system," Rosen said in 1978, "there's no proper way it can be kept secret because you would be tampering with the public's right to know what is being filed in its courts."

Before the 1977 law, all workers' compensation cases, like those filed in Municipal or Superior trial courts, were public record.

After Rosen's defiance of the change, an amendment to the Information Practices Act was passed in 1979, exempting workers' compensation cases and again making the files public.

In 1980, Rosen ran for election to the Los Angeles County Superior Court. He lost and remained on the workers' compensation court.

Rosen also served as the first president of the Bunker Hill Tower Condominium Board of Directors during the difficult period after the downtown high-rise had been converted from apartments to condominiums in 1980-81.

The 255-unit complex was one of the first major developments to come under the state's Condominium Conversion Act, and one of the first in Los Angeles to contain both commercial and residential space.

Rosen, who was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., graduated from the UC Berkeley School of Music. He served in the Army during World War II, earning a field commission as a first lieutenant and a Bronze Star.

Rosen earned a law degree from USC after the war, practiced law and became a workers' compensation judge in 1957, rising to presiding judge in 1973. He also taught law at Southwestern School of Law.

But he never abandoned his musical training. A respected violist, he played with the Pasadena Symphony for 25 years and participated in weekly string quartet sessions.

In addition to his wife, Rosen is survived by two sons, Stephen and Nathaniel; a daughter, Diane Simon; a brother, Arthur; five grandchildren; and one great-grandson.

The family has asked that any memorial contributions be made to the USC School of Music.

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