Dr. Michael Hunter to resign as SF chief medical examiner

City’s top forensic pathologist is stepping down for position in San Joaquin County

Dr. Michael Hunter, San Francisco’s chief medical examiner and a reality TV host, is leaving The City for a new job in the Central Valley.

The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to appoint Hunter as the county’s first chief medical examiner.

Hunter plans to step down from his position in San Francisco in early July.

With his departure, The City will launch a national search for his replacement.

Hunter faced a backlog of open death cases when he arrived from Florida in March 2015.

Two years later, he oversaw the Medical Examiner’s Office as it moved from the decrepit Hall of Justice to a brand new $65 million facility in Bayview.

“This modern facility allows us to more effectively and efficiently carry out our mandated duties as an essential first responder and critical partner in San Francisco’s justice system,” Hunter said at the time.

Hunter has faced criticism from the Public Defender’s Office during his tenure in San Francisco. Shortly before his death in February, the late Public Defender Jeff Adachi called for an investigation into whether the office had misrepresented its accreditation status.

Danielle Harris, felony manager for the Public Defender’s Office, said the Medical Examiner’s Office has been “plagued with problems over the last decade, leading to chronic understaffing, loss of accreditation, politicized medical opinions and a disturbing lack of transparency.”

“We are looking forward to a new leadership committed to remedying these deficits so that San Franciscans can have the top quality, open and unbiased Medical Examiner’s Office they deserve,” Harris said.

The Medical Examiner’s Office did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

City Administrator Naomi Kelly, who oversees the office, confirmed Hunter’s departure in a letter to staff at the Medical Examiner’s Office on Tuesday.

“The continuity of operations in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner during this transition period is a top priority for me,” Kelly said in the letter obtained by the San Francisco Examiner.

Kelly said her office would meet with staff this week to “help inform decisions” about management of the Medical Examiner’s Office in the future.

“An interim management plan and the kickoff of the Chief Medical Examiner recruitment process should both be completed before the end of June, at which time I will update all of you,” Kelly said.

Since 2016, Hunter has also been the host of a cable TV show called “Autopsy: The Last Hours of…”

He earned a salary of roughly $439,000 including benefits in 2018 as chief medical examiner, according to the website Transparent California.

In San Joaquin County, his company Forensic Doctors Group will be compensated $985,740 during the first year of a four-year contract for his services as well as the services of any subcontractors he hires.

County officials said at the Board of Supervisors meeting that the amount does not include compensation costs for expert testimony that Hunter may deliver for the district attorney or public defender in the county.

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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