Governor Phil Murphy signed into law the “Revised State Medical Examiner Act,” which overhauls the Office of the State Medical Examiner in the Department of Law and Public Safety and transfers its powers to the Office of the Chief State Medical Examiner.  Sponsored by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (Bergen), “This bill will provide much needed reformation to the Medical Examiner system.  A well-equipped staff as well as oversight of county and intercounty Medical Examiner offices will provide more efficient assistance to mourning families in our state. It’s long overdue, and our forensic investigatory apparatus would have the much needed independence from the judicial system it deserves.”

Under the new law, the Chief State Medical Examiner will report directly to the Commissioner of Health and will function independently within the Department of Health.  The Chief State Medical Examiner will next be required to adopt rules and regulations for medicolegal death investigations and personnel operation standards for the Office of the Chief State Medical Examiner along with all other county or intercounty medical examiners in New Jersey. Each medical examiner will continue to be appointed by the governing body of county or counties for a five year term.

Furthermore, the Chief State Medical Examiner will now have the power to intervene and assume control over all ongoing medicolegal death investigation.  Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (Hudson) explained that, “By putting oversight of forensic pathologists under the Department of Health instead of the state’s top prosecutor, we are creating a more unified system and removing any perception of prosecutorial influence.”  Sponsoring Legislator Mukherji also applauds Attorney General Grewal for supporting this reform and its rationale.

To add another layer of oversight to New Jersey’s Medical Examiner System, a nine member Medical Examiner Review Team will be required to meet within 45 days after receipt of a dispute report or removal from office notification.  The Commissioner of Health, the Commissioner of Human Services, Attorney General, Chief State Medical Examiner, Chair of Pathology from a New Jersey medical or osteopathic school, a board certified pathologist, and three public members appointed by the Governor will participate on this Review Team.

Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizen’s Committee Chair Joseph F. Vitale issued the following statement:  “I welcome the governor’s actions in signing these long-overdue and desperately-needed reforms to a medical examiner system that’s been fragmented, mismanaged, under-resourced and overworked.  Today’s enactment will empower the medical examiner with the capability for central oversight, adequate staffing, sufficient funding, higher standards and enhanced quality control, and will bring closure and comfort to families who have been mourning without answers.”

Sherri Ruggieri is the managing editor of Empire State News. A practicing attorney, Ms. Ruggieri is also chairperson of Edison Township’s Planning Board. Additionally, she has served as a college professor, with nearly a decade of experience in teaching law and political science courses.