Governor refuses to reappoint Broward medical examiner who autopsied Anna Nicole Smith

By Dan Christensen, 

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.”


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  • after speaking to those in ht e know this is probably one of the better decisions by the gov, he is was tooo old and it is time for him to go, staff retention was an issue.

  • My guess – Age Discrimination. He’s 78. The state targeted people 59 and older in the cuts they recently made. That is the mentality of this administration.

  • I had a course with Dr. Perper about 10 years ago, and I will never forget his the profundity and perspicacity of his lectures and talks. He is literally a walking encyclopedia and THE expert in his field. But Lord Voldemort decides that Dr. Perper may not be the man for the job.

    This is yet another idiot move by Voldemort. He is a disgrace to any sentient being with multiple functioning brain cells. Clearly, “disinterested” does not fall into this category.

    I believe Voldemort’s best decision was to NOT take money to fund a database on pill mills, no wait I think it was when he reversed himself. Maybe his disgraced educational consultant, Rhee, will prove to be his best decision. Although his best decision seems to have been defrauding taxpayers with his Medicare fraud before he became an official a–hole.

  • TO: Governor Scott:

    DA: 9/2/11

    RE: Reappointments in Broward County

    Dear Governor Scott:

    I was very disappointed to learn of your decision to decline the reappointment of Dr. Perper. I believe that your senior analysts who support you in your decision making process have failed miserably in educating you about the position of Medical Examiner and of Dr. Perper’s stellar reputation. Leaving that alone for a moment, even assuming you had a legitimate reason for declining the reappointment of Dr. Perper, I believe you could have done so in a more civil, diplomatic and respectable fashion.

    Dr. Perper has served as Broward County’s Chief Medical Examiner for seventeen (17) years. For seventeen years, he has done nothing but bring honor, respect, and integrity to the position and office in which he serves. He is a seventy-eight year old professional who is a doctor, a lawyer and has a master of science. He has authored several books and hundreds of articles. He has cooperated with various departments on a county and state level in order to improve public health policy. His resume is so extensive it would take pages and pages to articulate. The point is – he is a man of the highest honor and reputation and a doctor that has served Broward County for seventeen years. Even assuming you had a legitimate reason for declining Dr. Perper’s appointment, you should have handled the situation in a completely different manner. You should have taken five minutes to call Dr. Perper, professional to professional, and explained that for certain reasons, you were not inclined to renew his appointment. In short, you should have given Dr. Perper the opportunity to voluntarily resign with honor instead of publicly announcing your decision in the way that you did. I think a man of Dr. Perper’s caliber and reputation deserved this professional courtesy and your office failed to handle this situation in a proper fashion. Any competent employee who does nothing but be loyal, committed, honest, and ethical to his employer has a right to be treated in this fashion.

    Your assertion that you wished to examine other competent candidates is also faulty. The fact is, there were other candidates that you renewed who also did not have “competing” candidates for their position slot. This is a very weak explanation for your decision. You have the right to keep the grounds for your decision confidential. However, if you do choose to announce the supporting factors, they should be legitimate and this simply is not. I believe that you should be open and honest about your decision at this time and announce the basis of your decision publicly at this time.

    At this point, the damage has been done. What are your senior analysts recommending at this point in time? I believe that a letter retracting your decision to not renew the appointment would be a solid start. I believe a letter indicating that you wish to actually retract all of your renewals of all candidates who were appointed without any competing candidates be issued. All positions falling into this category should be reconsidered and reprocessed. If you expect competing candidates for the Office of Medical Examiner, then you should expect competing candidates for each and every position that did not have any and then judge and evaluate those candidates in an objective and neutral manner. In other words, you should treat each position equally and redo the entire process. I do not believe that a better candidate for the Office of the Broward County Medical Examiner exists. However, if you wish to explore that, then explore it across the board and do so with all background and facts being presented to you.

    Did you ever consider that an individual can still prove to be an asset to the State of Florida even after they leave their position as a consultant or as a guide? In other words, by building and even concluding relationships with respect, that the relationship could prove productive and mutually satisfying to both sides. Dr. Perper has dealt extremely well with high profile cases. He has always handled his cases with the utmost care and professionalism and even escorted the body of Anna Nicole Smith to the Bahamas to ensure that no one tampered with the body or violated the privacy of Ms. Smith or her family. If you are willing to take corrective action to repair the situation, you could still change the negative public opinions of your decision which numerous Floridians have expressed.

    In short, my suggestion is that you reverse all appointments in which competing candidates were not examined and reprocess these appointments. This is a decision based upon fairness and respect.

    Respectfully yours,

    A concerned citizen

  • the fact that he deemed Bernice Novack’s death a slip and fall is preposterous. She was bludgeoned to death with a crowbar as it is now confirmed by the trial. A slip and fall would never have produced the kinds of injuries that lady endured! Beyond incompetent something else seems to be going on here. The man examined corpses for 17 years and Ms. Novack’s body comes to him in a state of such severe injury that others who saw all the photographs taken of her body said that no one would have mistaken this for anything other than a murder /attack in her home where she was found. Thankfully he was not appointed again. 3 monthd later Ms. Novacks son was murdered. Perper is living scum.

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