Last week the Kenty County Board of Commissioners re-appointed Dr. Stephen Cohle as medical examiner for a four-year term.
As you will recall, we have reported Cohle's gross conflict of interest as both medical examiner and the owner of a pathology services firm. The conflict puts Cohle in the position of passing official judgment on suspicious deaths involving clients of his firm. Furthermore, in the cases of the Jennings and Sallie families at least, this conflict is more than just an appearance. As medical examiner Cohle exonerated his largest business client, Spectrum Health Corporation, from any liability in the suspicious deaths of members of those families at Specturm facilities based upon shoddy and incomplete investigations by his office.
Two of the county commissioners, Paul Mayhue and Dick Bulkowski, had the wits to raise the obvious question of Cohle's conflict of interest. Cohle dimissed the question with a shrug. He said that the commissioners should just trust him. The commissioners didn't press the issue except to say that it might make sense for Kent County to eliminate the conflict issue by hiring a medical examiner as a direct employee instead of contracting out the office to a private practitioner such as Cohle.
The county attorney Sherry Batzer argued that the county is allowed by state law to hire for the medical examiner's office a contractor like Cohle instead of a direct employee. She claimed that this is no different than hiring other types of contractors to do work for the county. Hmm. Maybe we should then contract the sheriff's office to a private investigator and the prosecutor's office to a criminal defense firm. What eludes Batzer is that the medical examiner's office is part of the justice system and so the citizens of Kent County are entitled, when it comes to the law, to the undivided loyalties of the person filling that post.
However, one the administrators for Kent County did tell the commissioners that they will be studying next year whether to hire the medical examiner as a direct employee. The rationale for doing so will be reduced cost. With all that on table, the county commissioners approved Cohle's re-appointment. So even if justice doesn't catch up with Cohle, maybe his price tag will.