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DC Appleseed Center Update

First Quarter 1998

733 15th Street, N.W., Suite 700, Washington, DC 20005
Phone: 202-393-1158 Fax: 202-393-1495 email:

DC Appleseed Recommends Changes for Medical Examiner
OCME Task Force
National League of Cities and DC Appleseed Host Discussion of Council Procedures
Council Task Force
Enhanced Leadership
Annual DC Audit Briefing

OCME Task Force

Carol Elder Bruce, Tighe, Patton, Tabackman & Babbin
Nicholas Fels, Covington & Burling
Mark Foster, Zuckerman, Spaeder, Goldstein, Taylor & Kolker
James Johnstone, Atty. at Law
Dr. James Luke, Former D.C. Chief Medical Examiner Examiner
Jennifer Lyman, George Washington University Law School
John McCarthy, Crowell & Moring
James McKay, Covington & Burling
David Schertler, Coburn & Schertler
Joshua Wyner, DC Appleseed
Affiliations listed for identification purposes only.

DC Appleseed Recommends Changes for Medical Examiner

On January 21, the DC Appleseed Center testified before the District of Columbia Council, and on March 10, 1998, released a report recommending reforms at the District's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ("OCME"). The District's OCME has two important responsibilities: supporting criminal justice agencies by providing accurate certification of the causes of violent, suspicious, and sudden unexpected deaths, and supporting public health agencies by determining the causes of employment- and disease- related deaths that might constitute a threat to public health.

Over the past several years, serious problems at the OCME have reverberated throughout the District's criminal justice and public health systems. In recent months, reports have indicated that an average of three people die in the District every month whose cause of death is never fully determined by the OCME, by far the highest rate in the nation; forensic pathologists employed by the OCME were found to be conducting autopsies after their medical licenses had expired, possibly imperiling prosecutions; and at least one violent offender remained at large – and committed a second violent offense – following a questionable finding by the OCME that prevented his prosecution for an earlier crime.

In its report – Problems at The District of Columbia's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. A Recommendation for Structural Reform – DC Appleseed analyzes the OCME's problems, compares OCME staffing and funding to that of medical examiners in other jurisdictions, and concludes that the OCME's persistent problems suggest a breakdown in leadership and oversight.

In February 1998, the Control Board took important steps toward resolving OCME's immediate problems, including the appointment of a new Chief Medical Examiner who is a highly qualified forensic pathologist. In its report, DC Appleseed recommends that an additional step be taken to ensure that oversight is improved.

Under long-standing administrative arrangements, the OCME has reported to the Department of Health, which has lime expertise in, or responsibility for, the District's criminal justice system. In fact, there is no single agency within the District government with the depth of knowledge and political will to assess all OCME functions, to detemmine accurately the OCME's budgetary needs, and to ensure that the OCME receives the resources it needs to carry out all of its functions. It makes no more sense to keep the OCME in DOH than it would be to have it governed by a department in the criminal justice area, such as the Metropolitan Police Department. To improve OCME oversight over the long run, DC Appleseed recommends that the OCME be governed by a commission of members of both public health and criminal justice organizations in the District that rely on the OCME's services – including the Metropolitan Police Department, the Corporation Counsel, the Public Defender, the U.S. Attorney, the Department of Health, and local medical schools. By following this model, which is similar to that used in many other jurisdictions, the District would create an internal incentive for the Commission to provide direct, continuous, and effective oversight of the OCME, and to serve as a strong advocate for the OCME, supporting a level of resources needed by the OCME to carry out its vital mission.

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Council Task Force

Enid Beaumont, Central Government Project
Stanley Colvin, US Information Agency
Nicholas W. Fels, Covington & Burling
John Hechinger, Sr., (retired) Hechinger Company
Jacquelyn V. Helm, Law Office of Jacquelyn V. Helm
Edward M. Levin, Economic Development Administration
William Lightfoot, Koonz McKenney Johnson DePaolis & Lightfoot
Philip Rosenthal, Covington & Burling
Daniel Singer, Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson
Arthur Spengler, Former Staff Dir., Mont. Co. Council
C. Anthony Trambley, Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson
Melody Webb, Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless
Sharon Webber, Federal Communications Commission
Roderic L. Woodson, Bethel & Nicastro, P.C.
Joshua S. Wyner, D.C. Appleseed Center
Affiliations listed for identification purposes only

National League of Cities and DC Appleseed Host Discussion of Council Procedures

On March 9, DC Appleseed met with four council members from other cities to discuss how they plan, implement, and staff their legislative and public hearing processes. In order to allow the DC Council to share information with other jurisdictions, the National League of Cities' hosted the discussion as part of its annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Three Council Presidents – Sue Donaldson (Seattle), Maryann Mahaffey (Detroit), and Cathy Reynolds (Denver) – along with Ken Bacchus, a veteran of the Kansas City Council, shared their thoughts concerning the effectiveness of the procedures their councils use to enact legislation, to plan and hold public hearings and to staff their operations. The meeting was part of DC Appleseed's Council Project, which is addressing procedural and administrative issues affecting DC Council operations (see 4th quarter 1997 Update). In addition to providing assistance to the Council on the issues addressed at the March 9 meeting, DC Appleseed has gathered information regarding the configuration of physical space used by local legislatures. This issue has immediate relevance for the District, as the Council's chambers and hearing room at the Wilson Building will soon be renovated.

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Enhanced Leadership

The DC Appleseed Center:

  • welcomes our two newest board members – Jacquelyn V. Helm (Law Office of Jacquelyn V., Helm), and Melody Webb (Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless). Both have provided their expertise and energy on DC Appleseed's Council Project, and we are enthusiastic about their increased involvement.

  • congratulates Bert T. Edwards on his election as Treasurer of the DC Appleseed Center in recognition for his consistent dedication to and leadership on DC Appleseed's projects and administration.

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Annual DC Audit Briefing

DC Appleseed invites you to attend a briefing on the District of Columbia's financial condition provided by the Greater Washington Society of CPAs. The briefing offers a straight-forward, non-technical analysis of the District's audit and financial condition based on the Greater Washington Society's review of the District's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. The briefing will be held on March 26, 1998, from 12-2 p.m. Please call our office for details and RSVP.

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