EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a letter from Ogdensburg attorney Preston C. Carlisle to Governor Andrew M. Cuomo regarding the closure last fall of the Workers Compensation Board hearing center in Canton. There is an effort afoot to reinstate the center, as traveling to Watertown, Plattsburgh or Saranac Lake has posed a hardship for injured workers seeking a legal remedy for denials of workers compensation claims. Mr. Carlisle is founder of the Carlisle Law Firm PC, Ogdensburg.
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Dear Governor Cuomo:
I have been practicing law in Ogdensburg for 53 years. During this time I have represented thousands of claimants for workers compensation, Social Security Disability, automobile accidents and personal injury.
Last year, the Workers Compensation Board closed the Canton hearing center. The closure of that office meant that claimants and their attorneys from St. Lawrence County had to go to either Watertown, Saranac Lake, or Plattsburgh for hearings.
St. Lawrence County is, of course, the largest county in the state of New York and has five large communities, including Ogdensburg, Massena, Canton, Potsdam and Gouverneur. At one time, the Workers Compensation Board had hearings in Gouverneur, Canton and Massena for the claimants’ convenience. Later that was changed to have one central hearing center in the village of Canton, which was pretty much central within 25 miles of Gouverneur, 20 miles of Ogdensburg, 20 miles of Massena and 10 miles from Potsdam. All in all, this was a very central and reasonable place to consolidate all the many hearings that had to be held in the north country.
In November 2013, the Canton hearing center was closed. It was closed with 30 days’ notice to the claimants and their attorneys, and the closure was complete before anyone really had the opportunity to understand just how bad the decision to close the center was for the claimants and their attorneys.
Claimants from Ogdensburg have to go either to Saranac Lake, which is 93 miles, or to Watertown, which is 60-plus miles. Claimants from Massena, the second-largest community in St. Lawrence County, have to go to Saranac Lake, Watertown or Plattsburgh for hearings. Saranac Lake is over 60 miles each way; Plattsburgh is approximately 100 miles each way and Watertown is approximately 93 miles each way.
Claimants from Potsdam and Canton have to go to either Saranac Lake or Watertown, a distance of approximately 60 miles, for hearings.
These hearings are held all through the winter, spring, summer and fall. In the winter, there are snow storms which make travel in the north country extremely difficult and often a one-hour trip will take an hour and a half to two hours or more, each way, in order to attend a hearing because of slippery conditions caused by ice and snow.
The effect of this on the finances of claimants and on the claimants’ attorneys and the amount of work attorneys have to do, including travel, has been enormously magnified because of the closure of the Canton hearing office. When the Canton office was opened, Ogdensburg claimants had to go 20 miles; Potsdam claimants had to go 10 miles; Massena claimants had to go about 20 miles and Gouverneur claimants had to go about 25 miles. It was centrally adequate for claimants and attorneys and was effective and in use for a number of years without serious problems.
Now all that has changed. The situation is grotesque, and in many ways almost impossible and terribly unjust for claimants. Something needs to be done to correct this terrible injustice. The simple answer is to reopen the Canton hearing center. It is still vacant and it can be reopened without any difficulty, and it can be in operation again in a very short period of time, if the Workers Compensation Board would only make the determination that it should be reopened.
Again, I have been very impressed with the things your administration has done to make possible more jobs, a better and more closely balanced budget and many, many other things that have been put into effect since you became governor that have benefitted New York and its citizens.
The one thing that stands out as improper since your administration came into office is the closing of the Canton location by the Workers Compensation Board.
Preston C. Carlisle