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Sunday, February 4, 2001

Harris County medical examiner fined for illegal autopsies, keeps job

HOUSTON (AP) — Harris County's chief medical examiner was fined $1,000 on Friday as part of a settlement reach with the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners for allowing an unlicensed pathologist to perform autopsies.

Dr. Joye Carter had faced stiffer punishment, including revocation of her medical license and the loss of her job, as a result of the investigation.

The agreement ends a three-year controversy that erupted when it was revealed that Carter had hired Delbert Van Dusen and allowed him to perform autopsies, including some in homicide cases, without a Texas medical license.

Under the Medical Practice Act, performing autopsies constitutes the practice of medicine. The state board said Carter denied she knowingly violated the act.

Her lawyer, Sam Stone, said Carter thought it was legal to allow Van Dusen to perform autopsies because state law does not say specifically that his or her staff must be licensed. The law does require a chief medical examiner to have a Texas medical license.

Van Dusen joined the medical examiner's office in August 1997 and performed up to 200 autopsies before it was revealed to the Harris County District Attorney's Office that he didn't have a Texas medical license.

Van Dusen, who was licensed to practice in Georgia and Indiana, received his Texas license after several rejections and a no-bill by a grand jury that investigated whether he illegally practiced medicine.

Opponents tried to have Carter fired for the Van Dusen incident and for attracting two whistleblower lawsuits, both of which the county lost. In October 1999, Harris County commissioners split on whether to fire Carter after they concluded their an investigation.

Stone said Friday's settlement clears his client.

Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack, a frequent Carter critic, said the board's order “pretty much ends the present episode.”

“I'm not about to second-guess those people in Austin,” he said.

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