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For the week of October 22 - 28, 2003


Coroner prepares to argue case in court

State seeks fines for tardy death documents

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County Coroner Russel Mikel is preparing to square off in court against the state of Idaho in a case that alleges the coroner took too long to complete five separate death certificates.

A hearing is scheduled for Nov. 14 in Hailey’s 5th District Court at 1:30 p.m.

Though Mikel has completed the documents in question, the state maintains that he still must pay fines for each day the documents were delinquent.

In a legal brief supporting Mikel’s request for summary judgment in the case, Mountain Home Attorney Lee Schlender wrote that Mikel promptly filed death certificates for each of the five individuals named in the Department of Health and Welfare’s legal complaint, which was filed June 23 by the Idaho Attorney General.

Only supplemental reports, to be finished when investigations or lab results were finished, were incomplete.

"On each of those certificates, (Mikel) stated that the information regarding cause of death was ‘pending by reason of ongoing investigation,’" Schlender wrote. "…Coroner Mikel thereafter was conducting investigations and awaiting the results of investigations or test results from other agencies."

When he was unable to promptly determine a cause of death, the department instructed Mikel to file certificates with the words "pending" or "pending autopsy or lab results," Schlender wrote.

Schlender cited a 1988 directive from the Department of Health and Welfare to all coroners: "As soon as possible (after the filing of a death certificate), a supplemental information form showing the cause of death must be filed with the state registrar."

Schlender contended that a time limitation before the imposition of a penalty for failure to file a supplemental certificate has not been established by the state Legislature or by the Department of Health and Welfare.

"Absent any such legislation, rule or regulation, it is unconstitutional to impose a penalty against Mr. Mikel," he wrote.

In an effort to resolve multiple cases involving incomplete death certificates in Blaine County, the state of Idaho filed its lawsuit on June 23 against the 20-year coroner.

The lawsuit seeks $7,880 in fines imposed on Mikel by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare in the absence of the completed documents, as well as an order that would find Mikel in contempt of court if he failed to complete the absent documents.

For each day Mikel failed to complete the task beyond May 30, the date the aforementioned total was established, fines mounted at $175 per day, according to Health and Welfare.

According to Idaho Code, death certificates must be filed with the state registrar of vital statistics within five days after the occurrence of a death. However, when investigation is required, medical certifications of the cause of death may be delayed for up to 15 days.

The issue of a supplemental certificate is not addressed in the Idaho Code.



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