In testimony before the Honolulu City Council Salary Commission March 7, Managing Director Doug Chin supported a proposal to increase the medical examiner’s income by about $50,000 a year.

“We understand the salary commission is looking at setting it at $200,000,” Chin said. “We do concur with this recommendation. We realize that even this salary sets the medical examiner’s salary at a very, very low percentile in comparison with the rest of the United States.”

Currently, Acting Medical Examiner William Goodhue is Honolulu’s highest paid public employee. He has an annual salary of $153,852. (The medical examiner position has technically been vacant since November, 2009.)

If the medical examiner’s income was raised to $200,000 a year, is it accurate that he would still be on the low end among medical examiners in the United States?

It’s surprisingly difficult to say.

  • According to CareerBuilder.com, the average salary for a medical examiner in the U.S. is $97,044.

  • According to Insideprison.com, a website detailing incarceration information, a Chief Medical Examiner makes between $145,000 and $232,000 annually.

  • According to ForensicScienceCareers.com, most private sector medical examiners make about $200,000 per year. However, it sates that “government and public sectors range widely, paying medical examiners anywhere from $75,000 – $150,000.”

  • eHow.com claims the average salary is between $75,000 and $200,000.

Finally, Civil Beat contacted the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME), which pointed us in the direction of Dr. Randy Hanzlick, chief medical examiner for Fulton County, the home of Atlanta, Georgia.

In an e-mail to Civil Beat, Hanzlick said: “NAME does not have current official stats on salaries, but I can tell you that 200K per year for Chief ME, especially in a high cost place like HI, is lower than many Chief ME’s in the continental US… Salaries for medical examiners in general vary widely around the US. Some are considerably below 150K and some are 250K or higher. Many are around 140-170K.”

The e-mail seems to only add to the confusion. Hanzlick says that many medical examiners make more than $200,000, and that Hawaii would be low especially considering the Price of Paradise. But, he also says that many salaries range from $140,000 to $170,000.

The plot thickens.

Civil Beat then approached the Managing Director himself to see where he got his information.

In an e-mail, Chin said: “I based my remarks on comments received from individuals involved in the recruiting process, including an ME applicant who turned the City down and stated it was because Honolulu’s current set salary of $153,847 was too low.”

Chin also attached a spreadsheet detailing salary information for other medical examiners around the U.S. The spreadsheet appears below:


“As to ME’s specifically, the attached spreadsheet shows that several jurisdictions offer a salary well above Honolulu’s current set salary of $153,847,” Chin wrote. “Although we had proposed an increase in the ME’s current set salary to $176,924, the Commission seemed to feel a higher salary around $200,000 may help attract qualified individuals more successfully. This is the reason we agreed with the ad hoc committee for the Commission’s recommendation on March 7 that the ME’s salary be increased to $200,000. The ME’s position has been vacant since November 1, 2009, or over 16 months as of today.”

Chin also provided Civil Beat with a letter he wrote to the Salary Commission Feb. 23. In it, he cites salary information from the website Salary.com, which shows that $200,000 would be in the 10th percentile of medical examiner’s salaries in the U.S.. A screenshot of the information is below:


So. What’s the deal here?

Clearly, according to some data – including Chin’s – there are jurisdictions in the United State where medical examiner’s make more than $200,000. According to Salary.com, $200,000 is in the lowest percentile. Dr. Hanzlick, at least partially, also seems to agree with Chin. It’s also true that Honolulu is a large city.

But, several other sources seem to show $200,000 is on the high end. But then again, they’re not as credible. And the market tells us that the current salary is too low.