Honolulu’s Chief Medical Examiner may be out of job

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — The highest-paid city employee may soon be out of a job. Dr. Christopher Happy has been the city’s Chief Medical Examiner since 2013. But according to City Council Chair Ikaika Anderson, the Mayor’s office is moving to terminate him.

The City Medical Examiner’s Office plays a crucial role in murder investigations and unattended deaths. And because it can be a challenge to find nationally certified medical examiners in the country, they can demand top dollar. Dr. Happy currently gets paid $310,000 — the highest-paid official in the city. But after about 6 years of employment, Councilman Anderson says there’s an intent to terminate Dr. Happy.

“The Managing Director called me on the phone last week and informed me that the administration was to terminate Dr. Happy,” said Anderson. “I’m not aware of any complaints against the Medical Examiner, but again, the administration did tell me that the dismissal is for cause.”

It took the city about three years to fill the Chief Medical Examiner position after the doctor who previously held the role retired. We asked Anderson if he foresees the city struggling again to find a Chief Medical Examiner.

“I believe it’s too early to say whether the city would struggle in finding another Medical Examiner or not. I don’t know if the city administration started talking to potential candidates to succeed the Medical Examiner or if there’s anyone currently staffed in the Medical Examiner’s Office that may be interested in that position. There’s too many questions and variables out there right now for me to answer that question without any more information,” said Anderson.

In the past, the Medical examiner has asked for more money to hire another forensic pathologist, which does autopsies citing the number of cases they do exceeds national standards. But Anderson says every city department is challenged with a lack of resources.

“Before we chalk that up to resources or lack of staffing or non-performance, I really need to hear the administration’s reasoning,” he said.

The next step requires officials to hold a hearing before the City Council prior to termination. That’s when Anderson expects more information will be revealed.

“I’m both saddened and concerned with the administration’s intent to dismiss Dr. Happy. I personally like Dr. Happy and enjoyed working with him, but again, I’m not aware of the precise reason for cause that the administration says they have for dismissing the Medical Examiner so I’ll reserve my judgment until I hear the administration make the case.”

Anderson says he was told Dr. Happy is made aware of the situation.

According to Andrew Pereira, the communications director for Honolulu mayor Kirk Caldwell, Dr. Happy submitted a letter of resignation: “Dr. Happy came on board in late 2013 and helped to make improvements to the office, including the recruitment of other certified medical examiners. We want to thank him for his service and wish him well as he pursues future opportunities. Dr. Masahiko Kobayashi, Deputy Chief Medical Examiner, will serve as Acting Chief Medical Examiner.”

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