El Paso County Commissioner Vincent Perez said county officials are reviewing applications for the chief medical examiner, and at least one candidate has emerged as a top contender for deputy medical examiner.
"A screening committee is going through the applications, and at some point in this process will recommend the best candidates to the commissioners," Perez said. "The new chief medical examiner will hire a deputy medical examiner, and it's my understanding that we have a qualified applicant for that position."
Dr. Mario A. Rascon Ortiz, of Chihuahua City, received a written offer for the deputy medical examiner job in September from County Judge Veronica Escobar.
Under the terms of that offer, Rascon will receive $12,000 as a hiring incentive and a yearly salary of $171,708, plus health insurance and retirement benefits. He will also have vacation days, sick leave and get the county's regular holidays.
Because Rascon is a citizen of Mexico, the job offer is contingent on Rascon receiving a federal J-1 visa waiver, so he can obtain H-1B status that will allow him to work in the United States. The H-1B is a non-immigrant visa that allows U.S. employers to temporarily hire foreign workers in specialty occupations.
Rascon, 33, completed a forensic pathology program at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine in 2012. He has a certificate from the Office of the Medical Investigator, State of New Mexico, attesting that Rascon served
as a forensic pathology fellow for that office.
Rascon, who graduated from the Autonomous University of Chihuahua School of Medicine in Chihuahua, obtained a state medical license from the Texas Medical Board last July.
Perez said qualified medical examiners are in short supply and it's not unusual for the county to consider someone from another country for the deputy medical examiner position.
In October, the County Commissioners Court approved spending $1,225 to help expedite the processing for the immigration paperwork that Rascon needs.
El Paso County Interim Medical Examiner Dr. Juan Contin signed the visa waiver petition on behalf of Rascon, according to the federal form for Rascon, known as the "G-28 Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Accredited Representative."
David Fisher, a statewide consultant on medical examiners, said the county has to be careful not to place Rascon in a position of having to make judicial decisions related to accidental deaths, suicides and homicides while he is in a foreign citizen status.
"A medical examiner is like a judge, with the power to investigate and hold an inquest," Fisher said.
Under the Texas Code of Criminal Procedures, a medical examiner can hold an inquest (a court hearing) with or without a jury on matters related to causes of death.
Justices of the Peace assume this role in counties that do not have a medical examiner.
Fisher said that beginning this year, Texas legislators are expected to attempt major legislative changes that will address a variety of issues related to medical examiners across the state.
Fisher, who lives in the Austin area, filed a state complaint in 2009 alleging that El Paso's former medical examiner, Paul Shrode, made inaccurate claims about credentials when he applied for the medical examiners' job in El Paso County.
At first, county officials defended Shrode, and then fired him in May 2010 during the controversy.
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