Medical examiner quits; may have violated policy for years

Georgia’s chief medical examiner – who unexpectedly quit this week after revelations that he conducted private business on state time – apparently violated state policy on outside employment for years, according to documents reviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

As an employee of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Dr. Kris Sperry was required to get approval from his bosses before any moonlighting.

 

Dr. Kris Sperry was chief medical examiner at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for 18 years.

Dr. Kris Sperry was the chief medical examiner at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for 18 years.

But documents provided by the GBI show that Sperry requested – and received – permission to work on just 157 cases as a paid forensic consultant since 2003. Since then, however, other documents show Sperry worked on 539 cases outside his GBI job.

The GBI documents include no requests by Sperry since July 2, 2011.

But since that date, Sperry accepted at least 103 cases through his private consulting firm, according to court records and other documents reviewed by the Journal-Constitution.

Sperry retired this week – and vacated his office – following an investigative report in the Journal-Constitution last weekend. The newspaper reported that Sperry’s outside work had exposed him to conflicts of interest and had undermined his medical and scientific judgment. In addition, the newspaper found, Sperry claimed to have worked at least eight hours at his state job on 67 days when he spent time on his private business. On 13 of those days, he was actually out of state testifying in court for private clients.

Sperry is “acutely embarrassed over his work-hour discrepancies,” his boss, GBI Director Vernon Keenan, said Friday. Keenan has asked the state attorney general’s office to review the matter and “advise if further action needs to be taken.” Filing false time sheets is a crime for a state employee, with a penalty of one to five years in prison. Sperry, 60, became chief medical examiner in 1997.

In earlier interviews, Keenan said the GBI could do only so much to monitor Sperry’s outside business. Once Sperry completed 40 hours each week, Keenan said, the agency had little control over his activities.

But documents show the GBI exercised little of its authority over Sperry, whose role in highly publicized cases made him one of the agency’s best-known employees.

Sperry often requested approval for outside work after he had already appeared in court or given a deposition. He also gave little detail about his work; from 2008 to 2011, he gave a generic description on each request: “Review medical records/autopsy report/tissue slides to determine cause and manner of death in a civil litigation case.”

Just once did a supervisor question Sperry’s outside work. In July 2009, a deputy GBI director asked who performed the autopsy in a case for which Sperry had been retained.

“There is no death and no autopsy,” Sperry wrote back, and his request was approved.

Sperry stopped requesting permission altogether after July 2, 2011, according to the GBI documents. On that date, he filed an “annual renewal” that said he would work for “attorneys in civil matters, representing either plaintiffs or defendants.” The amount of work would be “variable,” he said, and performed “at home, not at GBI.”

Four years passed before GBI officials learned just how much outside work this involved.

 


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