Lawsuit over human remains set to test Ontario’s mind-set on a cultural

Tunnel vision.

The word conjures up images of Heath Ledger’s Joker in “The Dark Knight,” the jack-in-the-box with his back to the action and focusing his attention only on the villain.

So the terms appear as a panel of seven city and county officials recently bristled at claims that Ontario’s chief pathologist, Dr. Julio Martinez, is working in secret while refusing to reveal information about “human remains” discovered in a muddy downtown alley.

Martinez, who is named in two lawsuits about the bones, cast aspersions on his critics as looking to score political points while dismissing such theories as speculative and without merit.

City officials defended Martinez, saying they are doing what they can to ensure that the state-of-the-art autopsy results come from the pathologist and not one of his close associates or a hired expert.

The issue was expected to head to court next week, with two groups of lawyers contesting who should know about the autopsy – victims’ family members or Martinez. The attorneys for the relatives want a judge to decide which party gets to disclose the findings.

Martinez, for his part, has said he won’t be forced to open the case and disclose the results, and fears revealing details of the autopsy could lead to a private autopsy. Such a procedure requires a judge’s approval, Martinez’s lawyer, David Szalay, told The Washington Post.

“There is nothing in state law that would allow the court to order Dr. Martinez to give the requested information to the plaintiffs,” Szalay said.

The bones were found by a plumber digging in a downtown alley in late October.

They are “mostly male and essentially myopic,” according to Martinez, whose testimony at a Jan. 19 council meeting prompted the tussle over a culture of secrecy.

“Particularly of concern is where has Dr. Martinez performed many of his examinations in the past?” asked Councilman Vincent Sarmiento, a Democrat who called Martinez’s answers “abrasive” and “extraordinarily short.”

Szalay, however, defended Martinez, saying the pathologist handles hundreds of autopsies a year.

“In that case, Dr. Martinez, looking for his next job, is moving his family to another jurisdiction,” Szalay said. “It is a massive movement that the city is looking to utilize Ontario police and the mayor’s office to conduct a story for TV and movie-making purposes.”

Szalay said the existence of the possibly non-human remains is a small part of the grand, three-ring circus of medical records in Martinez’s examining room.

“Dr. Martinez goes to a lot of court hearings – there’s about 40 cases where he’s been called. He has no conscience at those hearings,” he said. “There is a well-documented caseload of 30 to 40 cases a year. If he did, as I understand it, only one or two of those years, we’d be looking at a five-year backlog.”

Martinez said he is often frustrated by the costs of studying bodies and advised his supervisors that he did not want another body in his work area, according to Szalay.

The issue over the human remains could come before a judge as early as next week, and Martinez could also be called to testify. He told The Post that he was inundated with media calls.

“Right now, no one is prepared to do anything about this,” Szalay said. “Our whole issue is that this would be seen in a different light if you could do an independent investigation of what the facts are about Dr. Martinez’s workload and how he does his job.”

The lawyers for Martinez’s two accusers are scheduled to file an affidavit to support their case by Wednesday, at which point the case is expected to be assigned to a judge for the lawsuit over the autopsy.

The other suit, alleging unlawful arrest and malicious prosecution, was filed by the Ontario police officer who grabbed Martinez and arrested him on the back of his head, according to Szalay. It is not clear what the results of an investigation into the allegations were, or whether anyone

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