Snohomish County to pay fired forensic pathologist $150,000

EVERETT — Snohomish County agreed to pay $150,000 Wednesday to settle a legal dispute with a former associate medical examiner who was fired this spring.

Dr. Stanley Adams lost his job as a forensic pathologist with the Medical Examiner’s Office in March. Adams was one of two specialized medical doctors employed by the county to determine the cause and manner of deaths, especially in violent or unexpected circumstances. Overseeing autopsies is part of the job.

A month after his ouster, Adams filed a damage claim against the county. That’s a first step toward filing a lawsuit. He sought compensation for lost pay, attorney fees and legal costs.

The case was settled before any lawsuit was filed. The County Council approved the agreement with a 4-0 vote.

Neither side admitted fault.

“Dr. Adams is pleased that there has been a mutually amicable resolution,” said his attorney, Mathew Harrington of the Stokes Lawrence law firm in Seattle. “(He) is extremely proud of his service in the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office on behalf of the people of Snohomish County.”

The county agreed to give Adams an employment reference stating that his forensic work at the county, “followed the highest quality and ethical standards.” It frames the problems that led to his termination as “a professional disagreement concerning management issues.”

Adams agreed to make himself available to consult or testify for the county in future criminal and civil cases. He’ll get $300 per hour for that work.

In his claim, Adams alleged that his boss, Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Daniel Selove, told him he was being fired for “failure to follow my policies.” Adams believed he was fired in retaliation for reporting concerns about following nationally accepted practices and county policies. He called it “a danger to public health and safety.” A letter from his attorney mentioned a disagreement over preparing investigatory reports.

How the supposed lapses might have compromised health or safety isn’t explained in the legal documents.

Adams, 59, was the second-highest-paid county employee, after Selove. He earned just over $200,000 per year.

He started at the county in 2009. He enjoyed a solid professional reputation, particularly for his work during the deadly Oso mudslide.

He also had a role in a controversial 2012 decision not to conduct an autopsy on a Monroe boy who, tests later showed, ingested a fatal dose of salicylates, a chemical common in aspirin and other over-the-counter drugs. Detectives believed the death suspicious, in part because the boy’s parents had been previously investigated for mistreating the child. No charges were filed in the death.

Adams’ dismissal ended a nearly two-year period of calm in the office of about a dozen employees. Selove’s hiring as chief medical examiner in June 2015 appeared to usher in that stability.

The former medical examiner, Dr. Norman Thiersch, resigned in 2014. Thiersch’s reputation as a forensic scientist remained intact, though his ability to work well with others, particularly staff, repeatedly was called into question. The county settled $620,000 in related lawsuits.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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