Gov. Rick Scott Wednesday rejected a recommendation that he reappoint Dr. Joshua Perper, Broward’s high-profile medical examiner, to another three-year term.
The move appears to signal the end of Perper’s 17-year tenure as Broward’s Chief Medical Examiner – a post that in 2007 made him a national media celebrity after he conducted the examination and autopsy of the body of model and actress Anna Nicole Smith.
The governor’s decision about Perper was made public in Tampa at a quarterly meeting of the Florida Medical Examiners Commission. In a brief letter received Wednesday morning, Scott asked the commission to come up with additional names for his consideration, according to Chairman Dr. Bruce Hyma, chief medical examiner for Miami-Dade. At the same time, Scott announced that he had reappointed eight other district medical examiners, Hyma said.
“It was a surprise,” said Hyma. “In May, the commission forwarded Dr. Perper’s name with a favorable recommendation. His was the only name that was sent up….No explanation was given.”
Another Medical Examiner present at the meeting said the announcement landed like “a bombshell.”
Perper, 78, a registered Democrat whose term expired July 1, said today that he was surprised and disappointed to learn of the governor’s decision.
“I don’t see any reasonable explanation. The county administrator and the Broward Medical Commission supported me very strongly,” he said. “Certainly the public would like to know and I would certainly like to know why he made his decision.”
Lane Wright, the governor’s press secretary, said later “Governor Scott wants to have options when choosing who will be the Medical Examiner going forward for Broward County. It’s difficult to have options when only one name has been submitted.”
Broward’s Medical Examiners Office investigates all violent, suspicious, unnatural and unattended deaths and performs toxicology testing for drugs and poisons, according to its website. Its full name is the Office of Medical Examiner and Trauma Services, and its duties include countywide trauma medical care and transportation.
The governor appoints each of the nine members of the Medical Examiners Commission. By law, they must include the attorney general or a designee, Florida’s surgeon general or his designee, two physicians who are also medical examiners, a funeral director, a county commissioner, state attorney, public defender and a sheriff.
Perper, who was born in Romania, was the chief coroner in Pittsburgh, Pa. when he was tapped by Gov. Lawton Chiles to be Chief Medical Examiner in Broward.
Over the years, Perper presided over a number of high-profile cases:
- 1995. The autopsy of 17-year-old Krissy Taylor, the sister of supermodel Niki Taylor, who died of an asthma attack after collapsing at the family’s Pembroke Pines home.
- 2001. The execution-style slaying of Fort Lauderdale businessman Gus Boulis, whose murder figured in a national political corruption investigation surrounding ex-lobbyist “Casino” Jack Abramoff.
- 2003. The autopsy of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, who collapsed during a spring training workout at Fort Lauderdale Stadium. Perper later concluded that while Bechler died of heatstroke, the appetite suppressant ephedra played a significant contributing role in his death, according to The New York Times.
But it was the sudden death of Anna Nicole Smith at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino on Feb. 8, 2007 that catapulted Perper to celebrity and talking-head status. Perper considers the Smith case so significant that he continues to post copies of Smith’s autopsy report and medical examiner crime scene reports on the county’s website. No other case is listed.
Perper’s conclusion: Smith died of an accidental overdose of the sedative chloral hydrate and other medications.
Perper rode the publicity wave to a guest seat on a number of national television shows: Larry King Live, Nancy Grace, Anderson Cooper 360. Earlier this year, he was interviewed on True Crime with Aphrodite Jones.
Perper’s reputation suffered a serious blow last year after federal agents determined his office botched the 2009 autopsy of 87-year-old Bernice Novack, widow of Fountainbleau Hotel owner Ben Novack Sr. The initial ruling set the cause of death as a slip-and-fall accident.
Three months later, however, her millionaire son Ben Novack Jr. was brutally beaten to death in a New York hotel room. Authorities eventually arrested the dead man’s widow, Narcy Novack, and it soon came out that prosecutors believed she also had helped arrange Bernice’s murder. Perper reclassified Bernice’s death as a homicide.
Perper said he does not believe his reversal in the Novack case had anything to do with the governor’s decision.
“The autopsy, that’s something that is in the past. This was something that was done in conjunction with the investigation by the police,” he said. “The manner of death is a matter of circumstances and circumstances change.
Perper, a leader in the campaign to curb prescription drug abuse, suffered an embarrassing personal blow earlier this year when his 49-year-old son , Dr. Zvi Harry Perper, was arrested and charged with racketeering and drug trafficking by federal agents during a series of raids on South Florida pain clinics. The younger Perper pleaded not guilty.
Why the governor chose not to reappoint Perper is not known.
In June, after Scott signed legislation intended to crack down on so-called pill mills, the Sun-Sentinel quoted Perper as praising the governor.
“The state is going in the right direction this time,” he said. “I support the bill very strongly.”