Interim Medical Examiner Not Certified
When Rao's resignation takes effect March 31, Eddie Adelstein will take over as interim medical examiner.
Adelstein was interim medical examiner when Rao took the job two years ago.
"At the end of the day, I have to be at ease with my conscience. Have I done the job which I was asked to do when I accepted this position? And that's the way I was trained," Rao said. "Dr. Adelstein is not trained. So for him, that's the way he looks at it. I chalk it up to lack of experience and training."
Adelstein said he has more than enough experience.
"Any people who want to be a forensic pathologist do an additional year. That is, they do a fellowship. I actually have never done that nor do I have my boards in forensic pathology," Adelstein said. "But, I have a lot of degrees and I've spent a lot of time. So, you know, I have a medical degree and a veterinary degree."
Because Adelstein isn't a certified medical examiner, Rao worries his findings could be thrown out in court.
"If a very astute defense lawyer comes to look at the case, he can pull out the standards and that credibility aspect could come into question," Rao said.
But, Adelstein isn't worried.
"I've testified in many cases and I've never actually had my evidence overruled," he said. "I've never been actually objected to."
When she took the job, Rao said Adelstein's office was in shambles.
"There was no security in this place. Everybody had access to the office," she complained. "They would just wheel a body in and, in the morning when we come, we don't know where did this body come from, which county brought this body in, who brought it in, what time did the body came in? So, we had to establish something as basic as security in this office."
Rao also said there were no body diagrams, no photographs and no toe tags, the standard ways to identify and document bodies.
Adelstein says that's because digital cameras weren't as common two years ago.
"Digital cameras are really within the last couple of years," he said. "It's so easy now."
Adelstein said he will keep Rao's organization system in place. But, he said he probably won't perform as many autopsies.
"Doing an autopsy is an intrusion upon a family's rights. We have the legal right to do an autopsy when they fall under our jurisdiction. But, it's a right that we should use very carefully," he said. "There are cases where you can make a choice, and we see that world differently. When Dr. Rao leaves, I'll go back to doing them the way I did them before."
Rao disagreed with Adelstein's opinion.
"You have to do everything that you think is important to come to a cause and manner of death," she argued. You can't fudge these things. You can't put down, 'Oh, this patient died of heart disease,' when you have no objective evidence of that unless you do an autopsy."
Rao announced her resignation Feb. 4. She will return to Florida to become medical examiner in Jacksonville.