New morgue boss not giving up his $5,000-a-day side job
BY NEIL STEINBERG firstname.lastname@example.org July 10, 2012 11:30PM
Bodies on top of bodies sit stacked in the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office.
Updated: August 12, 2012 6:28AM
Nearly five thousand bodies a year go through the Cook County medical examiner’s office, an office that — whoever was to blame — found itself in disarray this past year, with bodies piling up in the morgue cooler and staffers snapping photos of grisly refuse to send to the press.
You’d think that cleaning up and then running the ME’s office, which now pays $300,000 a year, would be a full-time job.
But the newly designated medical examiner, Dr. Stephen J. Cina, whose selection was announced Tuesday, also has a long-time lucrative side job as a forensic pathology consultant for high-profile lawsuits, pulling down $5,000 a day, plus expenses.
A job he plans to keep once he takes over for sacked predecessor, Dr. Nancy Jones.
“We allow our employees to have second jobs, as long as they don’t conflict with county work,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said.
Nor is Cina — pronounced “See-nah” — licensed yet to practice medicine in Illinois, so he cannot sign death certificates.
“He does not have a license right now, but he is applying and by the time he gets here, he will have it by then,” said Mary Paleologos, a spokeswoman for Preckwinkle’s office.
The good news is it shouldn’t take him too long to get his license in Illinois.
“Usually a week or two,” said Susan Hofer, of the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. “We try to provide customer service.”
Once his licensing is in place, Cina, 46, will find himself in an office that is, despite his arrival, still seriously understaffed, with only five forensic pathologists available to help him perform autopsies — there are supposed to be 15, though Preckwinkle has promised more hiring.
Cina is now the associate medical director and chief administrative officer of the University of Miami’s Tissue Bank. Before that, he served as deputy chief medical examiner in Broward County, Fla., from 2007 to 2011. Last spring, he applied for the position of Broward County medical examiner when it became open, but he wasn’t selected.
All the while, he worked both his day jobs and kept up his big-bucks consulting business, charging $400 an hour to advise over the phone, plus testifying at more than 200 trials, charging $5,000 a day for out-of-town work, no credit cards or personal checks accepted.
“If you need an autopsy report reviewed or a patterned injury on an assault victim analyzed, consider a consultation with Dr. Stephen J. Cina,” his website, autopsyreview.org, ballyhoos.
His wife, Julie, an MBA, handles the business aspects.
County employees are permitted to do up to 20 hours a week of outside work, though that might not be possible once Cina sees the mess he needs to clean up and the political hoops he must jump through.
“I think he’s going to find that his duties as chief will interfere with his ability to continue his consulting practice,” said outgoing medical examiner Nancy Jones, who herself did legal work before joining Cook County — but stopped once she became medical examiner.
Cina said Tuesday he plans to work “up to eight hours a week” at his side business and promised not to take on work from any clients in Illinois.
“The job is 24/7, which doesn’t leave much time for outside work,” Jones said.
Speaking through Preckwinkle’s office, Cina declined an interview to explain the challenge of balancing consultation work with his new role of medical examiner.
He’ll have to scrupulously keep his business separate from county work. Medical examiners with private businesses have gotten themselves into trouble in other parts of the country in the past.
For instance, Cyril Wecht, a Pennsylvania pathologist, was accused of doing $400,000 worth of private work at public facilities and on public time while Allegheny County coroner in the early 1980s. The case dragged on for years, and he was eventually acquitted of criminal charges but ended up repaying the county $200,000 after a civil lawsuit.
Preckwinkle said she is not concerned that Broward County just passed on the chance to hire Cina last May.
“No, we’re grateful he’s willing to take the challenge,” she said. “He was recommended by his predecessor.”
“No, Dr. [Edmund] Donoghue,” Preckwinkle said, referring to the ME before Jones. “Then we did a pretty thorough search.”
The search consisted of evaluating three of the 300 to 400 medical examiners nationwide who qualify for the position.
“Not like people were banging at the door trying to be chief medical examiner of Cook County,” Paleologos said. “We needed to act swiftly. We were under the gun. He was very interested in the position. He approached us.”
The board of county commissioners votes on his appointment July 24.