Dr. Timothy Fagen, the remaining applicant for the Nueces County chief medical examiner position in recent months, declined to take the offer.
Nueces County commissioners on Wednesday voted to repost the opening for the position online, kicking off a renewed search for a replacement for Dr. Adel Shaker, who resigned last week after his arrest in a months-long criminal probe into his office.
Currently employed at the Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office in Austin, Fagen has been in active practice in the U.S. for 17 years, including three in Texas, according to Texas Medical Board records.
The commissioners’ first choice was Dr. Scott Luzi, a board-certified California forensic pathologist with more than two decades of experience. He also declined the job offer.
The court unanimously voted to amend the compensation package detailed in the new job posting, upping the base salary to $500,000 a year — a significant increase.
Shaker was approved for a raise in October 2020, according to county human resources documents obtained by the Caller-Times. Since then, he’s made $12,291.90 per pay period (issued semi-monthly), making his base salary just shy of $295,000 annually.
The $350,000 base salary offered to Fagen was an increase over Shaker’s current pay. Precinct 4 commissioner Brent Chesney asked the court to inform Fagen of the increased base salary in case he reconsiders his decision.
Luzi and Fagen were the only two applicants for the chief medical examiner position.
Fernandez appointed as interim
Commissioners last week appointed Shaker’s predecessor, Dr. Ray Fernandez, to serve as the interim chief medical examiner until a replacement takes the reins.
Fernandez has been working part time at the medical examiner’s office since he retired in 2020. The county will approach him now with an offer to make him full time until a replacement is selected.
Fernandez told the Caller-Times on Wednesday that he had not been approached by the county yet, but that he’d consider taking a full-time, interim position.
Last week, commissioners voted to approve the resignation of Shaker, who has been the subject of a criminal investigation alongside his former deputy chief medical examiner, Dr. Sandra Lyden, by the Nueces County District Attorney’s Office and the Texas Rangers, the investigative arm of the Department of Public Safety.
Shaker announced his retirement in February, the month after the investigation into the office and Lyden began. His attorney, Chris Gale, told commissioners his client had planned on staying in the position until his retirement.
The investigation began when Lyden was accused of practicing medicine without the proper license from the Texas Medical Board, a finding that arose after authorities questioned findings from one of Lyden’s autopsies.
The charges against both Shaker and Lyden were pending as of Wednesday.
Discussion on HR director tabled
Commissioners were slated to consider possible action concerning the county human resources director, Julie Guerra.
A Texas Ranger assisting in the criminal probe of the Nueces County Medical Examiner’s Office named Guerra in a sworn arrest affidavit for Shaker. In it, the Ranger accused Guerra and another employee of the medical examiner’s office of knowing Lyden was not licensed by the Texas Medical Board.
The Caller-Times is not naming the second employee because it was not immediately clear whether they faced disciplinary action.
The discussion was postponed from last week’s meeting to Wednesday’s. Then, commissioners on Wednesday voted to delay the discussion again, moving it to the court’s next meeting on May 11.
Multiple elected officials and department heads spoke during last week’s meeting in support of Guerra. On Wednesday, current and former employees of Guerra’s spoke favorably of her during the public comment period of the meeting.
Guerra’s attorney, Stephen Byrne, said the arrest of Shaker and the hiring of Lyden indicate the human resources department needs to undergo change.
After commending the qualifications of his client, Byrne said Guerra was well suited to reexamine county policies regarding hiring within the human resources department.
Chase Rogers covers local government and industry in South Texas. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @chasedrogers. You can support local journalism with a subscription to the Caller-Times.