Does The ME's Loss Of Accreditation Affect Cases?

Thursday, July 2nd 2009, 5:31 pm
By: News On 6

By Jennifer Loren, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- There are new details about the Oklahoma Medical Examiner's loss of accreditation.  Tulsa attorneys say reported deficiencies found at the state agency will have a widespread impact on the way court cases are handled.  But will the ME's failing grade cause prosecutors to flunk in the courtroom?

"It's the situation that we are put in. The building is old. The equipment is old. We don't have enough people. Our pathologists are doing too many autopsies. We need more," said Cherokee Ballard with the Oklahoma Medical Examiner's Office.

She says they were not surprised by a failed on-site inspection that revealed more than 40 deficiencies.  Most of the deficiencies dealt with staffing levels and space in both the Tulsa and Oklahoma City offices.

07/01/2009  Related Story: Medical Examiner's Office Fails Accreditation

Tulsa attorney Clark Brewster says he's witnessed the staffing shortages first hand.

"You go up there and they don't even have any people at the front desk anymore. You go in there and it's just like one person," said attorney Clark Brewster.

Despite that, he says Tulsa's office has an outstanding medical examiner and he has confidence in the quality of their autopsies.  That sentiment was echoed in the failed inspection report.

Brewster says the excessive workload could be called into question in court cases where their autopsies are used.

"If the medical examiner is known to be understaffed and maybe pressed with the lack of the ability to accomplish all the tasks that they should be accomplishing that's going to be a cross examination report that's going to be very serious for a jury in a close case," said Tulsa attorney Clark Brewster.

He hopes the state legislature steps up to help with funding because an unaccredited ME's office is bad for everyone.

"The medical examiner's office is so vitally important not only in the processes in the criminal justice system but also in reviewing medical errors, reviewing suspicious deaths, or giving us, at least a guide as to what happened," said attorney Clark Brewster.

Tulsa District Attorney Tim Harris says the loss of accreditation will not affect prosecutors' cases.

He told The News On 6 any attorney trying to call the integrity of medical examiner reports into question would have to prove their autopsies are not reliable and it says in the inspection report that the quality of the autopsies are excellent.