Connecticut cities and towns want Attorney General George Jepsen to weigh in with a formal legal opinion about the Chief Medical Examiner’s decision to make any “unclaimed” dead person the municipalities responsibility.
In late May, Dr. James Gill, sent an email to municipal officials saying that as of July 1 the bodies of unclaimed decedents will no longer be transported to the medical examiner’s office as a courtesy. Citing state statute, Gill said, “the proper authorities of the town in which the body is lying has the duty ‘to dispose’ of these remains.”
Gill said the decision, which will involve fewer than 100 decedents per year for the entire state, was necessary due to the budget cuts and a hiring freeze that has driven up the case load.
The office has a staff of 50, but Gill said an additional 11 vacancies that could not be filled because of a hiring freeze have compounded the office’s struggles. The office is due to be inspected for accreditation this summer.
The office performed 1,382 autopsies in 2012, 1,452 autopsies in 2013, and 1,723 autopsies in 2014, its online data records show. But they are up to 2,357 for fiscal year 2016. The growth is due largely to an increase in the number of overdose deaths.
Joe DeLong, executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said in a letter last week that they “appreciate the untenable circumstances” Gill’s office faces, but the informal legal advice Gill received doesn’t jibe with the legal advice CCM and the Council of Small Towns received from an attorney.
A legal opinion obtained by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities says assuming municipalities are responsible for these “unclaimed” decedents with no assets is a misinterpretation of the statute.
An opinion by Kari Olson of Murtha Cullina says that state law never made municipalities responsible for unclaimed decedents. She argues that the law allows municipalities to petition local probate courts to handle the remains, but does not mandate municipalities to go that far.
The statute also says the town responsible for the cost of disposing of the body is the town in which the “body is lying” and not the town in which the body was “found.”
Since the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is in Farmington that would make Farmington responsible for all of the cost of unclaimed bodies brought to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, which Olson doesn’t believe was the intended purpose.
Gill referred questions to the attorney general’s office.
Jaclyn Falkowski, a spokeswoman for Jepsen, said Monday that “our office has not received a request for a formal opinion from a client agency on this matter.”
She declined further comment due to attorney-client privilege.