Rao among 4 candidates for medical examiner position

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A search committee chaired by State Attorney Angela Corey interviewed four candidates Monday for the Fourth Judicial Circuit Medical Examiner position.

Dr. Valerie Rao has applied to keep the job, but has received some criticism and scrutiny about procedures and policies in her office. Rao has been accused of touching cadavers with her bare hands, wearing inappropriate footwear and making racially insensitive comments.

She was interviewed Monday by a panel that included Corey, Sheriff John Rutherford and a City Council member.

Rao told the interviewers that all allegations against her are unfounded. She did take a lot of heat for a 400-case backlog in autopsy reports dating back to 2002. Hundreds of Jacksonville families still don't know how their loved ones died.

She said one physician on staff failed to complete the reports from 2002 to 2010. Rao didn't take over as the chief until 2010, and that doctor's job is on the line.

"He's supposed to finish everything by the end of June, taking his own vacation time until the end of June," Rao said. "If he's doesn't finish all the cases from 2002 to 2010, he will be terminated."

Rao said she was accused of washing her feet in the autopsy table -- something that she claims she did in Miami years ago. She says the media blew it out of proportion.

"The media made a big deal out of it," Rao said. "I just mentioned that during autopsies, and that went out like it went out in Jacksonville."

Rao told committee members she's helped to clean up the District 4 office. She said she's been instrumental in technological advances and adding positions. She said she's considering outsourcing toxicology tests, while continuing to promote the residency program. She admits her biggest challenge is getting the facility accredited.

The Sheriff's Office and State Attorney's Office complimented Rao for being thorough in criminal trials. Her most recent testimony was as an expert witness in Michael Dunn's trial

She said more than anything, she needs more staff.

"I've never had a full staff," she said.

In addition to Rao, the panel on Monday interviewed Dr. Michael Hunter, Dr. Arthur Copeland and Dr. Thomas Beaver, then went behind closed doors to begin deliberations.  A recommendation on who to hire is due to Gov. Rick Scott next month.

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