Deal will pay S.J.’s new chief med­i­cal ex­am­iner nearly $5M

Lodi News-Sentinel - - LOCAL/STATE - By Roger Phillips

STOCK­TON — De­tails of the four-year con­tract of­fered to prospec­tive Chief Med­i­cal Ex­am­iner Michael Hunter re­veal a unique ar­range­ment that was con­jured up by the man who is set to be­come the first leader of San Joaquin County’s new­est de­part­ment.

For one thing, the 52year-old Hunter will not be­come a county em­ployee if the Board of Su­per­vi­sors ap­proves his con­tract at Tues­day’s meet­ing. For an­other, the con­tract is for an av­er­age of $1.2 mil­lion a year, a to­tal of nearly $5 mil­lion for the life of the deal. And, for­mally, the con­tract is not with Hunter but rather his Foren­sic Doc­tors Group, of which he is sole pro­pri­etor. Foren­sic Doc­tors Group will re­ceive $1.2 mil­lion a year, which will cover all county pathol­o­gist ser­vices, in­clud­ing pay­ing pathol­o­gist sub­con­trac­tors, for the life of the con­tract.

By con­trast, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures pro­vided in a staff re­port, the county paid nearly $905,000 for pathol­o­gist ser­vices in 2017-18, and is on pace to pay just more than $1 mil­lion for those ser­vices by the time the cur­rent fis­cal year ends June 30.

County Ad­min­is­tra­tor Mon­ica Nino said Fri­day that the most im­por­tant as­set Hunter will bring to the job is his 17 years of ex­pe­ri­ence as a chief med­i­cal ex­am­iner. Last year, when su­per­vi­sors voted to es­tab­lish a med­i­cal ex­am­iner’s of­fice in­de­pen­dent of the long­stand­ing sher­iff-coro­ner struc­ture, pri­vate con­sul­tant Dr. Roger Mitchell said turn­ing the job over to an ex­pe­ri­enced leader would be crit­i­cal.

“That was some of the great­est feed­back the board and I re­ceived as a re­sult of Dr. Mitchell’s re­port, both for­mally and in­for­mally,” Nino said. “It was im­por­tant to hire some­one who un­der­stands the role of be­ing a leader in county gov­ern­ment.”

Hunter, who could not be reached for com­ment Fri­day, has spent the past four years as San Fran­cisco’s chief med­i­cal ex­am­iner. He also is the host of a tele­vi­sion show, “Au­topsy: The Last Hours Of ...” that ap­pears on REELZ, a ca­ble net­work. The show delves into the mys­te­ri­ous as­pects of celebrity deaths. To­day, for ex­am­ple, sep­a­rate episodes delve into the deaths of co­me­di­ans John Belushi, John Candy, Chris Far­ley and Andy Kauf­man.

San Fran­cisco hired Hunter in early 2015 af­ter his pre­de­ces­sor left be­hind a sig­nif­i­cant back­log of au­top­sies. The San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle re­ported in late 2015 that the con­sen­sus among ob­servers was that Hunter “dra­mat­i­cally im­proved the turnaround time for do­ing au­top­sies and de­ter­min­ing the cause of death.”

Hunter wasn’t with­out crit­ics dur­ing his time in San Fran­cisco. Ac­cord­ing to the Chron­i­cle, Jeff Adachi, the late pub­lic de­fender in San Fran­cisco, ques­tioned the stan­dards and ethics of Hunter’s of­fice, and said an ex­am­iner work­ing un­der Hunter made “huge glar­ing er­rors” on one case.

The county’s need to ex­am­ine how its death in­ves­ti­ga­tions are con­ducted arose in late 2017 when foren­sic pathol­o­gists Dr. Ben­net Omalu and Dr. Su­san Par­son both re­signed, al­leg­ing in­ter­fer­ence by then-Sher­iff-Coro­ner Steve Moore. In May 2018, su­per­vi­sors voted to scrap the sher­iff-coro­ner struc­ture and cre­ate an in­de­pen­dent Of­fice of the Med­i­cal Ex­am­iner, which is re­quired to be fully op­er­a­tional by July 1, 2020. Hunter’s first day, as­sum­ing his con­tract is ap­proved, will be July 1 of this year.

Ac­cord­ing to the pro­posed con­tract, Hunter will be paid more than $985,000 in the first year of his con­tract. The county will have to de­cide at the end of each year whether or not to re­new the con­tract for an ad­di­tional year.

“It was a new op­por­tu­nity and a cre­ative idea,” Nino said of the ar­range­ment with Hunter. “(Su­per­vi­sors) re­ally be­lieve, and I do, too, that there’s great ac­count­abil­ity with him be­ing an in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tor.”

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