Thursday, April 28, 2011

Reform-minded medical examiner coming to town

Even death can be reformed.

So we learn today, as Ed FitzGerald announces the bona fides of his latest appointee: Dr. Thomas Gilson, the No. 2 coroner in Connecticut, his pick for Cuyahoga County medical examiner.

“Dr. Gilson was credited for reforming and turning around the Rhode Island Office of the Medical Examiner," FitzGerald said in a statement. "When Tom arrived, the office had long delays for service and was not accredited by the National Association of Medical Examiners, but he changed that." Gilson also reportedly worked through a two-year backlog of autopsy reports. (I hope that means the writing of reports, not a backlog of bodies on ice.)

A crusading, reform-minded medical examiner may just be what Cuyahoga County needs right now. FitzGerald needs Gilson to help sort out whether departing coroner Frank Miller brought on any patronage hires. The FBI, prodded by the Plain Dealer, is looking into whether or not Bill Mason or a Mason deputy nudged Miller into hiring Strongsville councilman Patrick Coyne, who's been implicated but not charged in the county corruption investigation. FitzGerald's administration, in turn, is re-examining other hires at the coroner's office for possible ties to Coyne.

Gilson's nomination ends Cuyahoga County's long, weird era of the politician-coroner. Yes, our chief cadaverist ran for election every four years, flummoxing voters who had to figure out whether there was truly a Republican or Democratic way to autopsy. But we haven't had a hard-fought, fiercely partisan coroner's race since 1936, when Samuel Gerber defeated Arthur J. Pearse and took charge of the Torso Murders investigation. Since then, the coroner's office, like most of our county government, has been a Democratic barony, an office where the science of death investigation mingled with the art of one-party rule.

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