I explained on Sunday evening that I’ve come across several documents showing that there were concerns about embattled Mississippi medical examiner Dr. Steven Hayne going back to the early 1990s. Before I get into the first few pages of the file I found on Dr. Hayne that was compiled by one of his rivals, I need to make a correction to my previous post. Referring to Mississippi’s last official state medical examiner, Dr. Emily Ward, I wrote:
Ward’s predecessor, Dr. Lloyd White—who was also chased out by the good ol’ boys—had explained how when he would tell a district attorney that his autopsy didn’t support the DA’s case , the DA would merely take the body to Hayne, who would then give the prosecutor the diagnosis he was looking for. When they would do this to Dr. Ward, she would infuriate the state’s prosecutors by calling up the defense counsel and offering to testify for them.
Dr. Ward emailed me to say that while her detractors accused her of reaching out to defense counsel in such cases (and I have letters where they have made those accusations), she never actually did so. She says reaching out to defense counsel in such a way would have been "very unprofessional." Dr. Ward has worked with defense counsel on occasion, but she emphasizes that she didn’t initiate the contact in those cases.
I’m happy to correct the post, and I apologize to Dr. Ward for mischaracterizing how she came to work with defense lawyers.
But here’s my question: Why would it be considered unprofessional for a state medical examiner to reach out to defense counsel under the circumstances above? If your job as state medical examiner is to make sure autopsies are science-based and accurate (as opposed to say, merely trying to help the state accumulate convictions), and you know that the state is about to prosecute a case based on faulty forensic evidence provided by a hack doctor, I’d like to think you’d feel obligated to let the defense and the court know what’s going on.
I guess don’t understand what possible prevailing ethic would render such action "unprofessional."
MORE: I should add here that I have a high opinion of Dr. Ward, and that she did all she could to change Mississippi’s autopsy system for the better. When she says reaching out to defense counsel would be “unprofessional” I’m sure she’s reflecting a widely-shared sentiment among her peers and colleagues.
I guess I just don’t see the reason for that sentiment.