Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Miller's Constitutional Amendment On Coroner Qualifications Flawed

If SJR-2, as recently introduced in the General Assembly, is the Interim Study Committee on Criminal Justice Matters' answer to the problems with the Marion County Coroner's office, then it needs to study the issue a little more. SJR-2 does no more than allow the legislature to prescribe additional qualifications for the coroner. Article 6 of the Indiana Constitution currently provides for the election of a coroner in each county. The only requirement for holding the office is that the person be a registered voter of the county for at least one year prior to his election. SJR-2, as proposed by Senator Pat Miller (R-Indianapolis), would leave intact the political process of selecting coroners. Many qualified medical professionals will not go through an elective process to hold an office for a term of at least four years and no more than eight years because of term limits. You can't set the qualifications too high under the current system, or you will be unable to find anyone eligible to run in many counties, particularly the smaller counties.

The real answer is something similar to what former state health director Dr. Richard Feldman proposed. He suggested replacing the elected county coroner system with the appointment of a state medical examiner under the state Department of Health with several regional medical examiners. All would be licensed forensic pathologists, who would be full-time professionals free of political considerations. SJR-2 needs to be reworked in this fashion. There's no time to lose. It will take two consecutive sessions of the legislature before it can go to the voters for approval, which means 2010 is the soonest it could be adopted.


Anonymous said...

DIck Feldman is one of the ebst health commissioners we've ever had. Smart man, and he left politics at the door.

Sounds like he's got this one about right, too.

Peter said...

The amendment is not about the Marion county coroner; it's about the Grant County coroner.

Although I agree that having a medical examiner system would be a great improvement.

Anonymous said...

M.E.'s are fine but who will have the check on authority over the Sheriff? And don't say the voters - voters cannot recall or remove a sheriff in the event of malfeasance.

Anonymous said...

Hail, no elected official in Indiana can be removed from office. There are no recall provisions. (S)he must resign. Or, a court could remove an official as part of an order or sentence, I suppose.

The coroner-sheriff provision you cite is often noted in these discussions.

The coroner is the only person who has the power to arrest the sheriff, not remove him from office. AN arrest, in and of itself, wouldn't necessarily disqualify a sheriff or any elected official from service. And an arrest can only come on a duly-issued warrant from a court of jurisdiction.

The coroner him/herself cannot embark on a campaign to dispose of the sheriff.

I'm ready to support a recall provision in Indiana law, however.
The line forms here:

Anonymous said...

The coroner him/herself cannot embark on a campaign to dispose of the sheriff.

Of course. However in the event of malfeasance on part of an elected sheriff without the role of the coroner as the "check" a sitting sheriff would be the literal "king of the county". I'm not aware of a court's power to remove an elected official. In fact I don't think they have the authority to do so (IANAL). A felony conviction would disqualify one from office, however. Though there is usually an arrest before a trial and conviction.

Perhaps a modified form where the coroner is still elected and for autopsy services a state system of ME's is established for counties outside the "big ones" (Lake and Marion). As an EMT I can tell you mass casualty incidents like the Taylor U. bus crash there's so much chaos there's numerous chances for error. After that bus rolled over everything was tossed about and when ones face is swelled up and beaten & bruised she looked nothing like her ID photo. Just had to go by descriptor - race, hair, eye, and height/weight (yah - what woman HASN'T lied about THAT???) Both girls were of course same race, hair color (blondes) etc. other than fingerprints and DNA it's hard telling which was which.

Tragic for the families involved, but that's no reason to toss out the baby with the bathwater. Ken Quackles on the other hand ... he's just plain incompetent. The voters should take care of him in 2008 (we hope!)

Kevin said...

Wow Hail, the Grant County coroner must be republican, otherwise you would be calling for his head.