Scientology case looms over medical examiner

Gov. Jeb Bush will consider any new comments on Pasco-Pinellas Medical

Tampa Tribune, June 15, 2000
By David Sommer

Examiner Joan Wood before deciding whether she should be reappointed to the job she has held since 1982, an aide said Thursday.

Wood's current, three-year appointment ends June 30, and she is the only person nominated for the job by the state Medical Examiners Commission, said Justin Sayfie, the governor's spokesman.

Sayfie said there has been confusion over whether Wood already had been reappointed to the job because Bush had renewed her seat on the Medical Examiners Commission, an arm of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, in April.

Wood has been chairwoman of the commission since joining it in 1994, according to her top assistant, Larry Bedore.

Reappointment surveys asking public officials for their opinion of Wood's job performance were sent out and returned earlier this year. Based on comments from officials including the sheriffs of Pasco and Pinellas counties, funeral directors, the state attorney and the public defender, the Medical Examiners Commission has recommended Wood be retained as medical examiner for the two counties of District 6.

``Those evaluations will be looked at, but any new information that comes to light will be looked at, too,'' Sayfie said.

Additional comments can be sent to the governor's Office of Appointments, Sayfie said.

Wood has been at the center of a controversial criminal case against the Church of Scientology in the 1995 death of church member Lisa McPherson.

This week, State Attorney Bernie McCabe's office released a strongly worded memorandum blaming what his office called missteps and inconsistent statements by Wood for McCabe's decision to drop felony charges of abuse of a disabled adult and practicing medicine without a license against the church.

But McCabe said afterward that he thought the McPherson case was just one incident ``in a long career of good work.'' He could not be reached for comment late Thursday.

Chief Circuit Judge Susan Schaeffer, who presided over the McPherson case and has questioned Wood's future effectiveness as a witness, said Thursday she sees no reason to contact the governor.

``This is a [single] case. She has been involved in a lot of cases,'' the judge said.

Public Defender Bob Dillinger, who said earlier that he gave Wood a satisfactory evaluation on the reappointment survey, could not be reached Thursday.

Early on in the McPherson case, Wood was criticized for releasing confidential information and for discussing the case on a nationally syndicated, tabloid-style television show.

Prosecutors began contemplating dropping the charges in February after Wood unexpectedly changed her autopsy findings to state that McPherson's death was accidental and that ``psychosis and history of auto accident'' were significant conditions that contributed to McPherson's death.

Wood deleted ``bed rest and severe dehydration'' as underlying causes, taking pressure off the church.

McPherson, 36, died after a 17-day stay at the church's spiritual headquarters, the Fort Harrison Hotel in downtown Clearwater.

A civil lawsuit brought by her family in Texas is pending against the church in Hillsborough Circuit Court.

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