Last week, I wrote about, among other things, the problem with people intent on proving the theory of Darwinism by taking “Selfies” with wild animals. As I indicated in that article, I possessed another #BearSelfie; one taken with a judge from the New Mexico Workers' Compensation system. 

Now, this isn't just any workers' compensation judge. This judge is, for better or worse, likely tied to history for a landmark decision he issued a couple years back in that state. He was the first, and so far only, judge in the nation to order that employers are responsible for providing medical marijuana for their injured workers who require it. A higher court overruled him on that matter, but earlier this year the New Mexico Court of Appeals reversed that decision, and reinstated his order, resulting in the state now establishing rules facilitating the use of medical marijuana in New Mexico.

More on that in a moment. First we need to discuss that #BearSelfie.

Terry Kramer, it turns out, isn't just a judge with 15 years experience on the bench. He was also a man in search of a hobby. How else would you explain the fact that he boarded a plane for Washington State a couple years ago for no other reason than he heard about a guy giving lessons on how to carve bears with a chain saw? That is apparently where people go when they have an overwhelming desire to do that. I did not know there was demand for such a thing.

Now, before the animal rights whack jobs go all ape gaga on me, please understand we are not actually talking about live bears. No, these are bears carved out of tree logs, using, of course, the aforementioned chainsaw. So, animal rights people are safe from being offended here. Tree huggers, it would seem, are shit out of luck.

So, as promised, here is Judge Kramer with his very own chainsaw crafted bear:

You may click on the image for a larger and un-cropped view. 

He calls that his “Bearliff”, by the way. 

So, you may be asking yourself, how did I get a picture of a judge, whose medical marijuana decision I roundly criticized, sitting with his wooden Bearliff? The answer might surprise you. He gave it to me. More accurately, he had his wife text it from her phone.

Last week I spoke at several sessions at the 70th Annual WC Educational Conference in Orlando, FL. One of those sessions was a lunch for the Judicial College, put on by the National Association of Workers' Compensation Judiciary. I was invited that evening to join both the judges and the regulators from SAWCA for a dinner near the conference hotel. At that dinner Terry Kramer introduced himself to me. During my introduction earlier in the day, it was mentioned where I went to college. It turns out Judge Kramer has built a retirement home in a community near that area, and we struck up a conversation.

Now, it might be considered manna from heaven for a bombastic, sarcastic, opinionated blogger such as myself to run across the judge who created such a controversy across the nation. After all, we had been talking about his very decision at the bloggers' panel earlier that day. Kramer was not shy about it, either. In fact, it was during the introductions where he told me “I'm the judge that ordered employers pay for medical marijuana”. I tell you, it was a blog that was practically going to write itself.

Except for one problem. I really liked the guy. 

He wasn't a whack job radical, a hippie dippie jurist, or a blithering idiot. He was a rational, personable individual who is pretty comfortable in his own skin. And he made a fairly good point; judges can only make decisions based on the facts entered into evidence. If a case is poorly defended or not presented properly, it is not the responsibility of the judge to do the attorneys work. 

I thought about a few details of the case while we were talking (Kramer did not really talk about specifics of that case). There was a doctor who prescribed medical marijuana because the patient was already using it, and said he needed it. The doctor indicated in testimony that he did not advocate the use of medical marijuana, but would prescribe it if asked to do so, as “they would use it anyway”. Kramer himself seemed more sympathetic (my interpretation, not his words) for the judge who overturned his decision than for the Appeals Court decision that ultimately let it stand. I was definitely left with the impression that, while I wholeheartedly disagree with the premise, the judge in this case was not an idiot. The doctor was.

Ultimately Kramer indicated his belief that the decision won't really have significance, as recreational marijuana will eventually be legal across the country, and then it “won't matter”. It was a point on which I strongly disagreed. While I do agree the tide for recreational marijuana seems to be rolling towards legalization, I think that requiring employers to pay for “medicinal” needs will only result in rampant cost shifting in that area. Recreationally legal or not, getting someone else to pay for your drug will be preferable to some. Queue the back strains and other invisible injuries….

We talked about a variety of things that evening. Kramer and his wife routinely drive much of the same route between Albuquerque and their home in Southwest Colorado that I do when visiting family there. We talked about the commute, and the region in general. It is a remote area with few towns and fewer facilities, and for me that provided the second biggest lesson of the night. 

First, the judge whose decision I disagreed with and roundly criticized was a sound and rational person, and second, there apparently is a clean and well maintained restroom in Cuba, NM. Terry and his wife told me exactly where I could find it the next time I am on that road to Farmington. 

Before that dinner I never would have believed either if you had told me. 


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