Criminal Justice

Mississippi CYA

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As I explained last night, yesterday's news conference in which Mississippi Commissioner of Public Safety Steve Simpson (sort of) announced that the state would no longer be using the services of embattled medical examiner Dr. Steven Hayne was an important first step, but it was offset by Commissioner Simpson's effusive praise for Hayne, and his assertion that his agency has no complaints about Hayne, and that it had no intent to investigate any of the cases in which Hayne has testified.  He even invited Hayne to apply for the state medical examiner's position (Hayne can't, of course, because he isn't board certified).

According to this AP account of the event, Simpson's praise pleased Dr. Hayne's attorney, Dale Danks, Jr.  Danks is a former mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, and the former attorney for current Jackson Mayor Frank Melton, who is now facing a federal indictment (Melton was also recently profiled here at reason as the "worst mayor in America").  Here's Danks:

Hayne's attorney, Dale Danks, said his client wouldn't seek a legal response to the contract termination.

"Dr. Hayne has dedicated many, many years of his life to ensure that autopsies that were required by the state of Mississippi were done," Danks said. "The commissioner made it very clear that Dr. Hayne had done an excellent job."

This is odd, because the day before the press conference, Danks was threatening litigation.  From Jackson's Clarion-Ledger: 

The Department of Public Safety faxed a letter to Hayne on Monday informing him of his removal from the list of pathologists.

Hayne would not comment, but his attorney, former Jackson Mayor Dale Danks Jr., said Monday that the letter gave no reason for his removal. "I think it's totally unjustified and unfair, and this matter will probably wind up in litigation," he said.

Seems pretty clear what happened, here.  Danks threatened litigation, so Simpson went out of his way to placate Hayne.  I'm told that after the presser, Danks walked up to Simpson, shook his hand, and told him he did a great job.

If it's money state officials in Mississippi are worried about (instead of, you know, justice), I'd be more worried about the far more expensive series of lawsuits likely to come from the people wrongfully convicted by Hayne's testimony than by an employment lawsuit from an incompetent doctor for whom there was more than enough cause to terminate.  

Meanwhile, Mississippi's old guard is circling the wagons around Hayne.  Here's Attorney General Jim Hood, a former district attorney who has used Hayne as a witness:

Attorney General Jim Hood said he's concerned about Hayne's impending departure because it could impact cases that the pathologist has been involved with.

"If defense lawyers are able to ask the question, 'Have you been fired?' on the witness stand, it's going to hurt in all those cases," Hood said…

That's sort of the point, Mr. Attorney General.  It ought to hurt those cases.

Then there's this, which seems to be the fallback talking point among Hayne's defenders:

Dr. Samuel Richard of Canton, an emergency physician, said Hayne has been "caught up in a whirlwind outside of the mainstream, originating in extremist ideology. The net result is to leave the state of Mississippi with no pathologist who will do the work."

There are no forensic pathologists to "do the work" in Mississippi because for the last 15 years, Hayne and his cronies in the DA and coroners' offices have chased all of the legitimate doctors away. 

I'll address just how "outside the mainstream" and "extremist" Hayne's critics really are in an upcoming post.