- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 19, 2011

The D.C. medical examiner’s office is “at a loss” to explain why a professional association declined to renew the office’s accreditation, while questions remain about the potential impact on law enforcement initiatives and perceptions in the courtroom, city officials said.

The National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) said “the warning was there” before its decision to remove the D.C. office from its list because Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Marie Pierre-Louis is not board-certified in pathology and has been out of training too long to go back and obtain the certification.

The association informed the D.C. office of its final decision March 16, noting a board-certified chief is a “non-negotiable criterion for full accreditation,” according to a recent budget report from the council’s Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary.

“There’s a value to having the accreditation,” Committee Chairman Phil Mendelson said Thursday, after the Washington Examiner first reported on the issue. “That value is lost.”

Dr. Pierre-Louis confirmed NAME’s decision and its underlying reasons during an oversight hearing before Mr. Mendelson’s committee on May 2, explaining why news broke this month and not earlier, according to a council staffer.

The D.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner received provisional accreditation for the first time in October 2008. It was renewed once before NAME’s recent denial.

Dr. David Fowler, chairman of NAME’s inspections and accreditations, said the District's office came a long way under Dr. Pierre-Louis but never addressed its final concerns about her board certification.

The association has developed its checklist over time, he said, and when not all criteria are met, “things tend to go wrong.”

The association recognized the talent of Dr. Pierre-Louis but will not overlook its criteria and analyze the qualities of each medical examiner, Dr. Fowler said.

“That gets into a very subjective area,” he said.

Meanwhile, local officials were left to wonder what impact, if any, the change will have on the merits of the medical examiner's office.

Kristopher Baumann, president of the Fraternal Order of the Police unit that represents Metropolitan Police Department officers, said the decision will affect the District’s ability to prove criminal cases and defend itself in civil cases.

He said it also “casts a shadow” over efforts to certify the District’s drunken-driving test methods and build a modern crime lab.

“They’re an unseen but large part of the criminal justice scene in the District,” Mr. Baumann said.

Beverly Fields, chief of staff for Dr. Pierre-Louis, said the accreditation process is a good way to ensure sound policies and procedures but not a reflection on the office’s work.

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