The already difficult process of finding a medical examiner for Florida’s First Judicial Circuit was further complicated Tuesday when Dr. Andrea Minyard, who’d been serving in an interim capacity, announced she would resign as of Sept. 30.
Minyard, who’d been the circuit’s medical examiner since 2004, was pushed out of her job in January by vote of the Florida Medical Examiners Commission, which acted at the behest of officials from across the four counties she served.
County Commissioners and local law enforcement officials had requested that the commission not reappoint Minyard. Many elected county officials had become frustrated with the way she ran her office, and questions about how budgeted dollars were spent led to litigation that remains ongoing.
Following her dismissal, Minyard agreed at the request of State Attorney Bill Eddins to stay on as interim medical examiner until her replacement could be hired. However, Eddins said she had become frustrated at working for a $250,000 salary that was significantly lower than what her office had previously been paid.
“She recently came to me and told me she’d made a commitment to me to stay and asked me to release her from that,” Eddins said. “I released her from the commitment.”
Minyard’s departure leaves an 11-member committee selected to find her successor with a possible additional task of locating another interim medical examiner.
Eddins, who as State Attorney is charged with appointing the interim, said he cannot afford to wait until Oct. 1 to find someone to step in, and the committee presently is scheduled to meet only twice more before Minyard leaves the job.
“The resignation kind of puts us on the clock,” said Okaloosa County Administrator John Hofstad, who attends committee meetings as a non-voting member alongside the administrators of the other First District counties, Walton, Santa Rosa and Escambia.
It is possible the committee could find a candidate to offer the full time job to without hiring an interim medical examiner, but the pool of applicants is extremely shallow. Only four doctors submitted résumés, and two of those have since withdrawn from consideration.
Thomas Coyne, the deputy chief medical examiner in Florida’s 21st District, and Scott Arnold Luzi, the medical director and manager of anatomic, clinical, forensic pathology services in Escondido, California, remain in contention for the job.
Finding a qualified medical examiner anywhere is tough, according to Dr. Stephen Nelson, the chairman of the state’s Medical Examiners Commission. There are 400 to 500 forensic pathologists in the entire country, and the number of newcomers to the field has been reduced to a trickle.
And with the market for forensic pathologists presently tilted in favor of the job seeker, the current climate in Florida’s First Judicial Circuit is likely to make the search for a new medical examiner more difficult than elsewhere, Nelson said.
“District 1’s difficulties will be compounded by the bad blood and widespread animus that exists in the four counties,” he said.
In announcing her departure, Minyard put those who had run her off on notice that finding a quality successor would require a serious commitment from them.
“I hope with new leadership, the county commissioners realize the problems that the office faces — physician understaffing and an inadequate and overcrowded facility,” she said in a news release issued by the State Attorney’s Office.
“District 1 is in desperate need of a consolidated office space to serve the current and future needs of our four-county district and to attract competent physician medical examiners to our area,” Minyard said.
Nelson said the Judicial Circuit could benefit from Minyard’s resignation in that the ongoing litigation between her office and Okaloosa and Escambia counties will no longer hang directly over it.
Even so, he said, the counties “have got a lot of making nice nice to do, even with Minyard, gone."
“Candidates are not going to want to come there if the counties are throwing spears at the medical examiner,” Nelson said.
Eddins said the committee selected to find a medical examiner has boosted the salary range to between $250,000 and $350,000. That salary pays not only the medical examiner, but also for staff and the maintaining of an office.
Committee members have agreed to keep Minyard’s staff intact for the new hire, Eddins said.
“That is significant,” he said. “It will make the transition to a new medical examiner easier and seamless.”