Why the People's Choice Awards?

By: Judge David Langham

Through the spring of 2016, I worked on the Comp Laude program with David DePaolo. He had sent an email late in 2015 inviting participation on the Comp Laude Advisory Board. He emailed again in February and noted that of the invitees “most of you affirmed participation, a few did not.” But, he “took the liberty of volunteering you” whether you responded or not. He was focused on progress and was, typically, not getting bogged down in the details. He asked me to chair a committee on a new Comp Laude segment, called “The People’s Choice.” Perhaps “asked” is not a fair description, few people ever successfully told David no. 

The Comp Laude began in 2012. It was a day-long Saturday event focused from the outset on the image of workers’ compensation. It was also philanthropic, with fee discounts offered to those who brought a toy to donate for Toys for Tots.  The program was presented in Burbank. I ribbed David about the location, as Burbank was often mentioned in the closing credits of television shows in my youth; we joked about which studio was “producing” the Comp Laude. 

In 2016, the Comp Laude® was slated to evolve. It transitioned to a two-day format, adding Friday to its ensemble. There would be more programming, including The People’s Choice. It was an ambitious change, and the spectrum of individuals David had recruited, or “volunteered,” to contribute was a “who’s who” of this industry from coast to coast. It promised to be a huge year for Comp Laude. 

In July 2016, I presented at the Florida Association of Self-Insureds program in Naples, Florida. It is an idyllic location on a secluded beachfront. I drove in, presented, and was literally back in the car two hours after arrival. But before I could make it to the interstate, my phone rang. I was told that David DePaolo had passed the day before. It was surreal. I was frankly certain that someone somewhere had made a simple error. I was wrong. 

We continued with Laude preparation in August, and a small committee including Steve Cattolica, Jeffrey Adelson, Catherine Bennett, Becky Curtis and Rick Victor produced the publicity, vetted the proposals and selected The People’s Choice presenters. Of course, Yvonne Guibert and others at WorkCompCentral did most of the real work and supported our efforts. 

The People’s Choice affords speakers a very short six-minute opportunity to speak. It is akin to the TED Talks with which many are familiar. David envisioned it and laid out the format. After he passed, we managed to fulfill that vision in 2016. Ten speakers submitted proposals, and on Saturday, November 5, 2016 seven presenters tried their hand at this challenging new TED format. An injured worker named Dwight Johnson was selected by the Burbank “studio audience” as the winner.  His story was inspiring. I use “was” because Dwight passed in March of this year. 

Dwight was unique. He lost both legs to work. And yet, he persevered. He appeared as a speaker at the Third Annual Comp Laude back in 2014. David wrote about it in Have a Kick Ass Day. Dwight later wrote a guest piece on David’s Blog Depaolo’s World back in 2015, and explained I’m Not Handicapped. Everyone should read that post. He founded Soule Innovations a business in which he hand-painted shoes. He said that the art work distracted people from his prosthetics, and started positive conversations. He was an intriguing and inspirational person. 

Comp Laude continues to evolve. This year, it has grown to three days, October 30 through November 1. Note the evolution from a Friday/Saturday to a weekday program! And, it has migrated a bit south from Burbank to the Manchester Grand in San Diego. I have had a hand in a few educational programs over the years, and the hallmark of the good ones is the ability to adapt and evolve. 

This year there will be education and programming. I am honored to be presenting on two panels. One is called “Real Conversations” and features a stellar panel of industry experts. This will be October 31, at 09:30 Pacific Time. It will address some difficult workers’ compensation issues from various perspectives, and is organized by Robert Rassp, Esq. and Judge David Pollack. I am reluctant to say any more as we have been sworn to secrecy regarding the details. (OK, just between us, there will be medical, legal, regulatory and more challenges presented through some very intriguing hypotheticals and pointed questions. Please do not tell them you heard it here though). 

On November 1, I will be on a very early morning panel at 08:00 Pacific Time. I will share the stage with California Judge Colleen Casey and Texas Judge Jennifer Hopens. This will be a discussion of workers’ compensation legal and procedural issues that affect the three most populous states. Of the nation’s 330 million people, almost 90 million live in California, Florida and Texas. Each has unique workers’ compensation laws and processes. This program will highlight both challenging issues and some comparative distinctions between jurisdictions. 

But, the highlight of the program this year is again likely to be The People’s Choice awards.  I would like to share with you the names of the presenters and the subjects each will address. But, alas, we don’t yet know. The process for 2017 has just begun. Proposals are coming in, but the deadline is not until September 15, 2017. You have the opportunity to literally follow in Dwight Johnson’s footsteps, even if you can no longer obtain his hand-painted shoes to stand in. You can take the stage and use your six short minutes to talk about workers’ compensation, about what is right in it, about what is worthy and laudable in it. That is what the Comp Laude is all about. 

David and his team want to inspire and commend, motivate and energize. Comp Laude celebrates and supports the efforts of so many who make a difference in this system. This year the process is chaired by Gregory McKenna of Gallagher Bassett, and supported thoroughly by Kristen Chavez of WorkCompCentral. I am proud to be a very small part of this Sixth Annual Comp Laude. And, I look forward to seeing you take the stage to follow in Dwight’s footsteps as a People’s Choice presenter. Submit your paragraph outlining your proposed presentation to Kristen Chavez (kristen@workcompcentral.com). You have a couple of weeks, but do it today. 

I look forward to hearing what you have to say!


  1. Thank you David. As usual, you nailed it. Appreciate your input and support.

  2. So proud to be involved. So many in this industry of which we can be proud!


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