Workers’ Comp Judge Put on Leave for Alleged Comment

June 11, 2007

A judge with the New Mexico Workers’ Compensation Administration has been placed on paid leave while the agency investigates an allegation that he made an inappropriate sexual proposal to an injured worker while serving as a mediator.

Chris Berkheimer, a former congressional aide and appointee of Gov. Bill Richardson, is accused of making the comment in early April after a workers’ comp video conference involving the worker, her employer and an insurance company.

Justin Pennington, an Albuquerque attorney representing the worker, told the Albuquerque Journal in a copyright story published Friday that Berkheimer and the woman were left alone in the room after the conference and that Berkheimer had failed to turn off the video conferencing equipment.

“I can tell you that the inappropriate sexual proposal was made according to two witness statements,” Pennington said, referring to the female worker and a meeting participant still connected to the video conference.

Berkheimer could not be reached for comment.

Berkheimer was appointed as a mediator by Richardson in the months after the 2004 election. On May 5, he was appointed a judge by the state workers’ comp director, and six days later he was placed on leave from his new $93,400-a-year job because of the allegation.

Van Cravens, a spokesman for the Workers’ Compensation Administration, said an independent investigator has been brought in.

“We take these things very seriously,” Cravens said. “We want to find out the truth of the matter as quickly as possible. Then we will take whatever action is necessary depending on the results of the investigation.”

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