The husband of Gov. Mary Fallin announced Friday that he will not practice law before Oklahoma's new Workers' Compensation Commission to avoid any actual or perceived appearance of impropriety.
“Because of my wife's influence on the new system, it is best that I remove myself before the changes take effect,” Wade Christensen, 59, said of the state's conversion from a court-based workers' compensation system to an administrative one.
Christensen said he will continue to represent several hundred clients with cases still pending before the old Workers' Compensation Court, which will be called the Court of Existing Claims under the new system. The old court system is scheduled to be phased out by Nov. 1, 2017.
Christensen said he also will continue to represent employers, businesses and commercial clients in other areas of law.
“I appreciate Wade going above and beyond both the spirit and the letter of the law to ensure his legal work does not reflect either a conflict of interest or the appearance of one,” Fallin said.
The change will be substantial for Christensen, who said workers' compensation cases have constituted at least 95 percent of his law practice for the past 30 years.
Questions were raised when Fallin was first elected concerning whether it would be proper for Christensen to continue to represent the University of Oklahoma and CompSource Oklahoma in cases before the Workers' Compensation Court. Christensen said he resumed representing those clients before the court after obtaining favorable opinions from the attorney general and Oklahoma Ethics Commission.
Some continued to privately question the propriety of the arrangement, since the governor appointed judges to the Workers' Compensation Court.
Christensen said he is backing away now because the governor is more directly involved in the new administrative system, which will be instituted under laws passed last legislative session that are scheduled to take effect Feb. 1.
“I think practicing in front of trial judges is a different scenario than practicing in front of judges that are appointed, or are in theory appointed, under the executive branch,” he said.
The governor is responsible for appointing the three workers' compensation commissioners who administer the new system.
“The governor has appointed three new commissioners who are in charge of hiring the administrative law judges and I wouldn't want to place the burden on any of them to have that difficulty of making a decision for or against my clients if I was appearing there,” Christensen said. “It's not only the Code of Ethics that attorneys are bound by, but there are probably political reasons and the Constitution that needs to be followed. And it's just a lot simpler if I don't practice there.”